People may think of Santa Monica and West Hollywood as the meccas for vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based cuisine. For a small corner of a big city, however, Northeast Los Angeles--especially the communities of Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Glassell Park--supports a surprisingly large number of food establishments that promote and support plant-based cuisine and lifestyles.
- Highland Park has Cinnamon, and, coming soon, the vegan drive-thru .
- Glassell Park is the home of caterer Jennie Cook’s "Plant Based Parties."
- Eagle Rock has , and . The latter is the location, as of Friday, of brand-new vegetarian pop-up .
The paths that brought these green cuisine options to Northeast Los Angeles are as varied as the establishments themselves, with proprietors citing avocation, spirituality, personal need and a sustainable lifestyle as some of the most important motivators.
The Tipping Points
In The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, acclaimed author and pop-sociologist Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as "that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
The proprietors of two of Eagle Rock’s tipping point restaurants, Auntie Em’s and Fatty’s & Co., were committed to vegetarianism, veganism, and sustainability almost a decade ago and brought that ethos to Eagle Rock.
These two tipping point establishments arguably helped draw like-minded peers to the sleepy, virtually unknown neighborhood of Eagle Rock by providing restaurants that would sustain a community.
A Sustainable Lifestyle
Auntie Em’s Terri Wahl remembers the Eagle Rock culinary scene as a “wasteland” but the neighborhood as a place where she could get a house with enough space to “compost and keep chickens."
Wahl’s desire for a sustainable lifestyle and her acquisition of Auntie Em’s, which was then a small, moribund hole-in-the-wall, merged to produce her now-iconic restaurant, where she combines comfort food with organic, seasonal, farmer’s market produce.
The twice-a-night seatings at her seasonal farmers' market dinners, held four times a year, sell out in hours.
A Good Cup of Coffee
Fatty & Co.’s Kim Dingle, an internationally acclaimed artist, originally acquired the historic Dahlia Motors Building in Eagle Rock as a painting studio.
Dingle says she and co-owner/chef Aude Charles opened Fatty’s--originally a breakfast-and-lunch-only spot--almost a decade ago because “there was no place around to get the kind of coffee that I liked ... and certainly no vegan cuisine.”
Over the years, Fatty’s & Co. metamorphosed into a dinner-only, fine dining establishment serving high-end vegetarian and vegan fare. Before the owners closed their doors in January for a “creative hiatus” to pursue individual non-restaurant projects, Fatty & Co.’s had become a destination restaurant for meatless eaters who came from as far away as Palm Springs, Lancaster and Huntington Beach.
Spirituality and Avocation in Highland Park
Highland Park may have at first lagged behind Eagle Rock in terms of the vegetarian scene, but it’s catching up fast.
In 2006, Cinnamon Restaurant ,which serves vegetarian and vegan Colombian food with loads of Latin flavor without the cuisine’s traditional ingredients of lard and chicken stock, was next on Northeast L.A.’s plant-based cuisine scene and the first vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Highland Park. The Cano family-- William, Norma, and Esperanza--had never run a restaurant before.
William and Norma became vegetarians after joining the non-denominational Universal Brotherhood church. Armed with nothing but a “sincere desire” to introduce the Highland Park community to the joys of vegan and vegetarian food, they hired Robert Lopez, of beloved Sol Luna vegetarian restaurant in MacArthur Park, as a consultant. Cinnamon survived a rocky first year to win glowing mentions from the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and Pasadena Magazine.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Green Cuisine Flourishes in Northeast Los Angeles."