NYC is without a doubt one of the vegan centers of the world. So founding and running one of the most prominent and beloved vegan restaurant groups in the city is an incredible accomplishment–and that’s exactly what Pamela Elizabeth has achieved. Recently, the restaurateur and a 10-year expert in the vegan arena added Urban Vegan Kitchen to her family of eateries, including Blossom du Jour brands (5 locations and counting; biggest vegan chain in NYC) and the upscale Blossom restaurants in Chelsea and the Upper West Side.
Ask any vegan, vegetarian, or even health-conscious New Yorker and chances are s/he will have eaten at a Pamela Elizabeth restaurant, and I’m no exception! As I gleefully explained to Pamela in our meeting at Urban Vegan Kitchen one recent night, I’ve had birthday dinners, Valentine’s Day dates, and peaceful dumpling brunches too many to count at Blossom. Not to mention, numerous Midtown Melt sandwiches from Blossom du Jour whenever I needed a hug from a sandwich (I love you v-cheese!). Pamela explained that she develops all her recipes herself–and revealed some other advice, including the secret to her incredible success and her definition of happiness.
PD: Thank you so much for sitting down with us, Pamela! First things first: when did you become vegan, and what convinced you to embrace it?
PE: I became vegan about 20 years ago. I had received a pamphlet in the mail from an animal sanctuary that spoke about factory farming and animal exploitation. This was something I’d never thought about. Well, upon reading about these horrors, I went vegetarian on the spot and vegan a few years thereafter.
PD: You opened the first Blossom location in Chelsea in 2006–that’s when I became vegan, between freshman and sophomore years in college! Veganism definitely wasn’t as widespread or accepted back then, if I’m remembering correctly. Did you run into any feedback like, “there just aren’t enough vegans to make a business successful”? How did you deal with the skeptics?
PE: I honestly don’t recall too many people being skeptical–people in general were very supportive. Of course we had our fair share of negative comments based on the fact that we weren’t serving meat, but for the most part, people enjoyed the food and dining experience. And the press, particularly TimeOut Magazine and VegNews Magazine were instrumental in spreading the good word about Blossom during our first year in business.
PD: My father is a restaurateur, so I’ve observed firsthand the challenges of running a successful restaurant, let alone following it up with multiple locations. To what do you attribute your restaurants’ incredible success?
PE: The past 10 years have been quite the journey, and yes, the restaurant business is extremely challenging. This might sound cliché, but the phrase “it takes a village” is an understatement. It takes the commitment, passion, and creativity of many to build and sustain anything. My passion for wanting to bring attention to factory farming through these venues has been an opportunity that I’m very grateful for.
PD: With that in mind, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Or what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
PE: Understand that things take time to build so patience is important, surround yourself with great people who understand the vision, and try not to get overwhelmed, as tomorrow’s a new day.
PD: I already mentioned this to you, but I have an obsession for the Midtown Melt sandwich at Blossom du Jour (cajun seitan, v-cheese, guac). What’s your favorite item on the menu, of all your restaurants? Sorry, we know it’s a bit challenging.
PE: My favorites at my restaurant called Du Jour are: Midtown Melt, Make Your Own Bowl, Butterfinger Shake
My favorites at my restaurant called Blossom Chelsea are: Seitan Scallopini, Ravioli In Cashew Cream, BBQ Tempeh, Chocolate Ganache.
My favorites at my restaurant called Urban Vegan Kitchen are: UVK Quarter Pounder, Double Decker Tacos, Chickpea Hush Puppies, Brandy Snap Bowl w/praline ice cream.
PD: I had some of the praline ice cream you speak of at Urban Vegan Kitchen…it was absolutely heavenly!! Speaking of UVK, I love the edgier vibe, especially with the basement bar that I can easily see turning into a hipster nightlife spot. What was your concept when you thought of UVK? What kind of crowd/vibe were you going for?
PE: The thought behind UVK is to offer a cool, edgy, soulful spot that boasts great vegan comfort/street food and drink, all the while taking note that vegan food is more than just food, it’s a movement. This type of spot doesn’t exist in NYC. A laid back, cool vegan spot where everyone is welcome who wants to have a good time. The lounge/bar area (“Chris’ Cat House”) offers a space where people can enjoy our vibe or create their own if they choose to rent out the space for an event or gathering.
PD: Who is the coolest/ most genuinely nice celeb to eat at one of your restaurants?
PE: Blythe Danner was lovely, and Stevie Wonder was wonderful (I didn’t meet him, but the managers said he was incredibly nice).
PD: With the success of your businesses, and with contributing part of the proceeds to animal charities, you’re such a visible figure in the vegan world. What’s the one thing you wish *non-vegan* people would know about being vegan, or why they should embrace this lifestyle?
PE: This is a great question. I wish for non-vegans to know that the life of others and their own life will change tremendously in a positive way, should they embrace a vegan lifestyle. No more contributing to the suffering of animals and the environment, no more ingesting of foods that are harmful to the body, and a profound opportunity to relate to oneself is offered. No one can really describe this, as it’s a personal journey and experience.
PD: One of the benefits of veganism, I feel, is that you feel spiritually healthier and happier. How do you define happiness–especially in a city where so many people equate material gains with happiness?
PE: NYC is a challenging city, there’s no question about it, but I feel like happiness, or insight, might be found by being in the moment and being honest about who you are and how you’re living in relation to what’s happening in the world. Living a vegan lifestyle can definitely bring you closer to experiencing a spiritually healthier life if one connects to it in a deep way.
Pamela’s Essentials List
Favorite item in your closet: Sneakers :/
Favorite cruelty-free beauty product: Vegan Perfume–is this considered a beauty product??
Favorite city/country to visit: I need to get to Malibu and Italy!
Your Mantra: Be kind to animals and take it one day at a time.
Guilty Pleasure: delicious vegan baked goods
In 5 years, I’ll be…: A louder voice for animal rights
When you feel most beautiful: Early in the morning when I wake up and realize what a gift it is to be alive and have the opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the world.
Obviously, we know where we’re having our next Peaceful Dumpling party. wink wink! ;D
Any questions for Pamela? Sound off below!
More from animal activists: Melanie Linehan of Animal Behavior
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Photos: Pamela Elizabeth, Peaceful Dumpling