Photos by Jason Ruiz
The well has run dry. The money tree is barren. Whatever euphemism you prefer, the Long Beach Vegan Eatery will be cashing in its cruelty-free chips August 1, pulling the plug on one of the city’s four dedicated vegetarian or vegan restaurants.
But co-owner Jeff Terranova’s East Coast bluntness doesn’t allow for such sugar-coating.
“I’m broke and we’ll be closing Thursday,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone as he answered phones and took care of customers at LBVE over the weekend.
Despite a Gofundme fundraiser started about a month ago to help raise the estimated $15,000 it would take to save LBVE, the Traffic Circle-adjacent shop is in its final days. Having already used their second-quarter sales tax to help pay the bills, the approaching deadlines of nearly $4,000 in license, permit and insurance renewals were expenses that couldn’t realistically be met. And so after Thursday's final day, the 50’s-era ice cream parlor once named Dairy Delight and now ironically a dairy-free restaurant, will once again be vacant.
“In hindsight, I think we held onto our pride way too long and we probably should’ve started the campaign earlier," Terranova said of the debt he estimates will take five to ten years to pay off. “I think it’s because we’re East Coasters and we’re used to struggling and fighting and making things work that and we’re not the kind of people that ask for help or beg for help."
Terranova and his partner, Beckey Salg, moved here from Connecticut in 2009. Both previously divorced and wanting to escape the New England area, they headed west. After spending a few days on a friend’s couch in Orange, they found an apartment and, eventually, inspiration in Long Beach.
Salg’s knack for baking vegan-friendly desserts and the lack of a dedicated establishments servicing the non-meat eating population of Long Beach seemed like a great opportunity for the two to open their own. On a cross-country trek back home, the two stopped off at vegetarian and vegan restaurants that dot the country’s interior, picking the brains of business owners. And after an eight-month search, they found a home for their new restaurant, specializing in American comfort food, at the corner of Lakewood Boulevard and Stearns Street.
“If they can survive there, in the middle of nowhere, we could do something like that in Long Beach, definitely,” Terranova said as he reflected on the optimism he held while planning his business venture.
However, the reality of being a business owner quickly set in for the owners of LBVE. An unexpected renovation prior to the opening to get the building up to code put the business in a hole that they never really could climb out of. Combined with expenses to maintain a string of equipment failures and an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit that forced the two to settle out of court for a “significant amount of money." The lawsuit, served June 26, 2012, coincided with the opening of corporate-backed competitor Veggie Grill and Terranova’s birthday. He knew this day was more ominous than anything.
"We started off with the water up to the bottom of my neck," Terranova said. “And for a year and nine months I was able to keep my head above the water. But now I’m drowning."
The closing, came as a sad surprise to patrons, who for the past 21 months have feasted on meatless meatloaf, tuna-free tuna salad and dairy-free chocolate whoopee pies.
Jennie Nguyen, a CSULB student, was sad to hear the news that the ranks of the city’s vegan-friendly options was shrinking.
“It’s so close to the university and it was a place that I could go to for my vegan food,” Nguyen said holding her chocolate-y, cream-filled dessert. “In long beach there are only a few vegetarian or vegan places. Where else am I going to get something like this?”
Not everyone shared Nguyen’s enthusiasm for the LBVE menu that featured many items that contained imitation meat. Terranova admits that some traditional vegans and vegetarians were turned off by the lack of more organic and raw items on the menu. In designing the menu, Terranova, a strict vegetarian for 26 years, opted to provide a selection that carnivores and herbivores could enjoy mutually. Describing it as the restaurant he never had growing up, his aim was to be inclusive--the Cheers of Long Beach, where every lifestyle and diet was welcome.
“Having a dedicated raw or organic place is awesome,” Terranova said of his choice of menu items. “But people have to start somewhere. The average Joe is not going to walk into an organic or raw restaurant and have that be their gateway into the lifestyle.”
Despite being admittedly jaded toward the restaurant business, Terravnova knows better than to say "never again" about potentially opening another business. The string of bad luck that befell LBVE could’ve happened to anyone, but he’s just grateful that they were able to raise consciousness in the community and potentially introduce people to healthier lifestyle. Their loyal customers, that made a new city feel like home, is something they’ll always be appreciative of.
“We’re not religious people,” Terranova said. “But in our own individual spirituality, we feel blessed everyday to have the regular customers, the love and the support. We’re 3,000 miles away from our home base, our family and our dear friends and we don’t feel that way because of the outpouring of love from this community.”
Long Beach Vegan Eatery is located at 2246 N. Lakewood Blvd., (562) 986-5283