Whether you’re a devout vegan or, like me, decide to curb your animal product intake, there comes a time when you realize the inefficiencies of finding places that can actually serve you something of worth. Even more frustrating, you often discover what Yelp! considers “vegan options available” to be a place that offers a side of fries or a plain side salad.
This is where CSULB graduate and Long Beach resident Valentin Zachesov—a devout vegetarian for six years—felt his frustrations hit a sky-high wall.
“My girlfriend and I began quickly discovering that if we wanted to dine out or have delivery, finding options was extremely difficult,” Zachesov said. “Veggie Grill and The Grain Cafe [both near the university] became our go-to and we realized we would go here over and over … We experienced the same thing when we went to Seattle too: There was just no easy guide for people seeking quality vegetarian food.”
The redundancy of eating the same thing over and over led to a passion project that was initially just meant for the pair: With every restaurant they would visit, they would survey the menu and take note of not only what direct vegan and vegetarian options there were but how to make non-vegan dishes edible for vegans.
On that latter point, Zachesov and vegans often note that certain aspects of dishes—like buns that, though not advertised as non-vegan, have milk or eggs—can often come with your meal anyway or vegetables that are cooked on the same grill as meat.
Zachesov took to responding to Yelp! reviewers who focused on the offerings of restaurants, asking them if they would use such an app and the response was overwhelmingly positive. When he came to the realization that he could create an app for the entire city, Zachesov then took on a very meticulous task: Over the past year, he and his crew have manually gathered tons of restaurants’ menus and grocery store offerings, customized them for his app, and them to users directly. He even breaks down every option to determine whether it is vegan, vegetarian, soy-free, nut-free, or gluten-free.
What makes this different than using, say, Maritime Courier or Postmates, is that every single option you pick requires no customization. No checkmark to not add cheese. No click to change the bun. When you get the Beyond Burger from Portfolio, it automatically orders it with vegan spread and a vegan bun.
“This is designed for vegans and vegetarians in Long Beach—it’s tailored to your specific needs, including options to set all options for ‘raw food only’ or whatever your dietary needs require,” Zachesov said. “And for right now, we assure you’re getting what you need because we aren’t using an algorithm; we’re manually maintaining it for now.”
While Zachesov and his crew are in the midst of creating an algorithm to pick up on places they perhaps missed, the app is still impressive: solely relegated to the boundaries of Long Beach, the app folds in local businesses—from Seabirds to Viva Falafel to Steamed to Berlin Bistro—while also informing its user of what “good” they did, such as how many gallons of water you saved and how many pounds of CO2 you prevented from entering the atmosphere.
“We have a very simple mission: to make living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle just a bit easier, whether you’re a dedicated person or someone just trying to make healthier choices,” Zachesov said.
You can download InstaVeggie here. For now, the app is only available on iOS. It will be available on other platforms soon.