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Rise of vegan businesses in Olympia: a concern for animals and the earth

Seattle and Portland have long been known as great places to live if you are a vegan. For those who abstain from consuming or using animal products, these two cities offer a vibrant array of restaurants and stores.

Olympia is nestled between these two “vegan Meccas” and has many restaurants that offer vegan options, but for years, vegans in Olympia have longed for more all-vegan restaurants, stores, and services. Vegans now have reason to celebrate. As more people in our community become aware of and concerned about animal exploitation, more all-vegan businesses have sprung up.

In December, I spoke to three owners of local vegan businesses to learn what inspires their plant-based business model.

Kevin Rainsberry and Jamie Vulva are co-owners of the Wayside Cafe & Deli (609 Capitol Way, S), an all-vegan comfort food restaurant that opened its doors last summer. I met with Kevin and Jamie as the delicious smell of something pan-seared (barbequed tofu?) rolled off the grill.

What inspired you to start an all-vegan restaurant in Olympia?

Kevin: We saw the absence of any sit-down vegan restaurant as a gap that should be filled.

Why did you create an all-vegan menu, as opposed to just offering vegan options?

Kevin: As longtime vegans, it was important to us that the Wayside be all plant-based.  Animal rights is a foundation of our business, so we never considered including animal products on the menu.

Jamie: If you’re serving any animal products, you are contributing to harming animals.

Do you consider running an all-vegan business to be a form of activism?

Jamie: Every vegan has their own way of doing activism, and I think it’s important to show people, through good food, that they do not have to settle for anything that doesn’t fit their personal values. I’ve actually heard from several community members who are considering veganism for the first time, as a result of their experience eating here. I believe it has the power to change people’s minds.

Kevin: The Interfaith Works Eye-2-Eye fundraiser dinner, where I’ve done the cooking for many years, will be sponsored under the Wayside’s name this January.

After a long day at the Wayside, what do you go home and cook for yourself?

Kevin: Something boring, like pasta or pizza. OK, arugula and kalamata olive pizza.Next I interviewed Lesli Baker, a plant-based nutritional therapist and yoga instructor. Lesli and I settled in for a chat over the phone after Lesli’s long day of yoga instruction.

How does a plant-based or vegan approach fit with your job as a nutritional therapist?

Lesli: Clients come to me with a variety of health issues, such as stomach issues, fatigue issues, hormonal issues. When a client contacts me seeking help, I let them know that to work with me, they will need to transition to a plant-based diet. I make sure to work with clients where they’re at, and start the conversation by sharing the health reasons why a plant-based diet is important and can help them heal.

Do you feel that your work aligns with your personal convictions?

Lesli: Yes—if you think of veganism as an umbrella, all of the reasons for being vegan (environmentalism, health, and animal rights) fit really comfortably under the umbrella. The umbrella is big enough for everybody to be vegan for their own reasons. That being said, moral veganism is really a very important part of my own personal philosophy with regard to diet.

Founding a vegan business is a big investment, considering you are serving a niche clientele. Would you consider having a vegan business to be a form of activism?

Lesli: I think any small role we can play to plant the seed in someone’s mind about going vegan is a form of activism. Just by being vegan, you are setting an example by saying, “look at me, I am healthy and happy and physically active. And I’m thinking for myself. Wouldn’t you like to also do all of those things?” I think representing yourself out loud as a vegan in your community is a form of activism.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon for you?

Lesli: Stay tuned in 2019 for vegan lifestyle transition workshops, as well as workshops on how to adopt a plant-based diet, and even workshops for those experiencing specific issues (such as women experiencing perimenopause symptoms). More information will be available on my Facebook page.

My last interview was with Liana Francisco, the new owner of the Little General Store (500 Capitol Way, S.). Liana and I sat down bright and early for a cup of coffee at Batdorf and Bronson.

What sort of hopes and dreams do you have for the Little General Store?

Liana: My main goal is to transition the Little General to an all-vegan establishment. When I first set out to buy the store, that goal wasn’t clear in my mind, but as a longtime vegan I came to realize that including animal products in my inventory wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Do you see running a vegan business as having a bigger purpose than just a job?

Liana: Yes. It is something much bigger. I see it as being a part of the solution to many problems in our culture, and addressing important issues such as environmentalism, animal rights, and health. It is a great job to be able to offer that type of employment, too – employees want to be a part of something that matters.

Is there anything that you’ve been obsessively cooking lately?

Liana: Vegan, gluten-free waffle toasts. And trying to push the boundaries of what can possibly be cooked in an Instant Pot.

Heather Sundean is a Tumwater resident, longtime vegan, and animal rights activist.

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