Luther Turmelle New Haven Register, Conn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While many restaurants are struggling to survive the pandemic, one vegetarian restaurant in Connecticut is blooming with its focus on healthy eating.
As restaurants in Connecticut and across the country continue to operate under restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic, many eateries are struggling to stay in business.
But not Wallingford's Wild Alchemy Cafe, where co-owners Allison Davis and Colleen Morgan are looking to take their plant-based food menu to Southington and Avon — and even are exploring franchising the business.
"We believe food can transform their lives," said Davis, who also is the restaurant's chef. "On the back of the pandemic, people are increasingly understanding the importance of eating well and healthy living. It's not about taking things out of your diet, it's adding more good things to your diet."
The restaurant capped off an eventful 2020 by moving into a larger space at 600 N. Colony Road and undergoing a rebranding. Morgan started the restaurant, then known as Pure Alchemy Conscious Cafe, five years ago "because she wanted to eat this way," Davis said.
The restaurant's first home was in an old Victorian house less than mile from its current location in the Wallingford Tower Square Plaza.
"It didn't have a lot of kitchen space," Davis said of the restaurant's old location, which was only 1,000 square feet.
Since the move was completed at the end of last year, Wild Alchemy Cafe has seen an increase in foot traffic, she said. Many of the people visiting the restaurant are first-time customers, according to Davis, who said 100 people have signed up for Wild Alchemy Cafe's customer loyalty card.
"We are back to where we were at the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic," Davis said of the restaurant's financial performance. "In the five years leading up to 2020, there was consistent year-over-year growth of about 30 percent."
Davis said she expects to open the next location of Wild Alchemy Cafe — at 1173 Queen St. in Southington — early in the second quarter of this year. She and her business partner have signed a lease for space in the Avon Marketplace shopping center, as well, with the restaurant there scheduled to open later this year.
Davis said she and Morgan are proceeding carefully in assessing their prospects for franchising.
"I'm your classic entrepreneur who likes to have big dreams," Davis said. "But at the same time, we want to make sure we have everything right, like having the right centralized kitchen."
Restaurants with plant-based menus have grown exponentially in recent years, according to Branden Lewis, a chef and associate professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. Interest in the dining segment has been so strong that the school has launched a bachelor's degree program in sustainable food systems that includes a course in plant-based cuisines.
"It's becoming more and more popular," Lewis said. "According to a 2016 Harris Poll, 3.7 million Americans are estimated to be vegan and 4.3 million are vegetarian. And 88 percent of those polled are willing to pay more for healthier foods."
The Vegetarian Resource Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism, found 37 percent of the U.S. population seeks vegetarian options at least some of the time.
And that rising popularity is also opening opportunities outside cities, with locations sprouting up in the suburbs — even Wallingford has two.
"If your restaurant is in a city, you're trying to get a more eclectic crowd," Lewis said. "In the suburbs, they (plant-based restaurants) need something more substantive, more satisfying."
Lewis said consumers seek out vegetarian or vegan options for a variety of reasons.
"One is just personal health," he said. "Plants are better for you, they're full of fiber. Health and wellness matter because dietary health issues cost millions of dollars a year in health care costs."
Having more of a plant-based diet also is better for the environment, according to Lewis.
"Cattle farming has huge environmental impacts," he said, Some choose plant-based diets because of their concern for animals, Lewis said.
"It's like religion, people have to make a decision about what they want to do," he said.
___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.