Ogden's growing plant-based culture means vegan food for everyone

Sunday , May 06, 2018 - 5:15 AM3 comments

This fall, Molly Ward is hiring a local vegan bakery to cater her wedding. But she’s not vegan herself.

Instead, she’s part of a growing national trend of Ogden omnivores seeking vegan choices when they can. A movement that mostly started with animal-rights activism has become more inclusive. “Part-time” vegans are seeking plant-based options for their health and for the health of the planet.

“It’s much more sustainable and better for the environment if you’re not a meat consumer,” Ward said. “You can still have delicious things even when you eliminate meat and even diary.”

A vegan diet means cutting out anything that comes from animals – no meat, no dairy, no eggs. The plant-based trend has rooted itself in Ogden’s food scene, with burgeoning vegan-only businesses and established restaurants growing their vegan options. It’s now easy to find vegan cookies, vegan bar food, vegan pizza, vegan tacos and vegan lattes.

“It has changed so much, especially in the last year,” said Kylee Hallows, who owns the vegan bakery Lavender Kitchen with her wife Lisa. 

They’re supplying the cakes, cookies and other treats for Ward’s wedding.

Kylee said the rise of vegan dining options pairs well with Ogden’s rebranding as an outdoor mecca and active lifestyle destination. 

“I really think it’s a health and an environmental thing, I don’t think it’s a ‘poor animals’ thing,” she said.

RELATED: 6 vegetarian-friendly restaurants you need to try in Ogden

Cutting animal consumption has been a trend among those looking to cut their global footprint, at least since the rise of “Meatless Monday” in the early aughts. Vegan eating now seems solidly mainstream as the plant-based food market grows and the dairy market takes a dive.

That doesn’t mean all vegan dishes are full of bland veggies. 

“Everyone thinks we live off salads. I can’t tell you the last time we had salad or ordered salad,” Lisa said.

Lavender Kitchen has whipped together all kinds of tasty sweets, from chocolates to muffins to their much-loved “brookies” — a cookie-brownie combination. 

They’re now focused on developing savory baked goods as well, like pretzels, empanadas and sunflower sausage.

Lisa only became vegan after meeting Kylee. The two enjoy whipping up new dishes that capture the taste and texture of their favorite comfort foods.

“I’ll be like ‘Kylee, I want biscuits and gravy.’ We figured it out and made bomb biscuits and gravy. There hasn’t been anything we can’t re-create,” Lisa said. “We want something that everyone can eat. We appreciate that being vegan — we’re used to going places and not being able to eat things.”

That changing fast in Ogden. Lavender Kitchen recently finished compiling their online Ogden Vegan Dining Guide which includes 20 restaurants with solid vegan menus that go beyond veggie burgers and salads. 

One of Ogden’s first restaurants to blaze the trail in offering a full vegan-specific menu was the Funk-N-Dive and its sister pub the Harp and Hound, both on Washington Boulebard. Owner David Morris also owns the Salt Lake City-based Piper Down bar. He became vegan eight years ago for his health.

“I changed my whole house over, but then I’d go to work and get tired of eating French fries and salads, which are the only things you have as real options in a bar environment,” he said. 

The worst part? Being the annoying friend with special dietary requirements when going out with a group.

“They don’t really want to go to a salad and granola place and you want to go with them to the bar, but there’s never anything to eat,” Morris said.

That’s why he began introducing vegan options at Piper Down. By the time he opened Funk-N-Dive almost four years go, he developed a full menu of bar food favorites that are completely plant-based, like sandwiches, nachos and a “fishless” fish and chips. 

The vegan menu parallels their conventional, carnivore-friendly menu, but the vegan food is prepared in a separate section of the kitchen with separate utensils.

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Morris said he was initially nervous about how his vegan menu would be received in Ogden. 

“That’s the biggest part. I could have awesome vegan options, but if no one ate it ... if nobody’s talking about you, you won’t last long,” he said. “My Ogden vegans absolutely blew me away. They’re such a great community.”

Most recently, Morris has introduced a “vegan steak night” on Saturdays with meatless steaks and ribs source from the Herbivorous Butcher in Minnesota. 

“Having a meat alternative, is, I’ve found, definitely a way to transition people away from 100 percent meat diet,” Morris said. “It’s hard to change someone who, for 40 years, ate meat every single meal. I don’t know, I hope I’m helping.”

When Morris went vegan, he said he dropped his cholesterol and lost weight. He quickly became aware of meat’s environmental impacts, too.

According to a 2015 report by the Utah Foundation, 82 percent of Utah’s water — the nation’s second-driest state — goes to agriculture. About half that is used to grow alfalfa hay. And a significant chunk of the Utah’s hay is exported to feed livestock outside the country. 

RELATED: Utah's population growth questionable without Great Salt Lake

“I get pissed off that, like, 80 percent of our water ... basically goes to making meat,” he said. “The whole ethical part comes in. It kind of helps you stay committed.”

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Local vegans all seem to agree, plant-based food has come a long way. Lucky Slice on Historic 25th Street has even accepted the ultimate vegan challenge — dairy-free, meat-free pizza. 

“As demand grew we realized we had to buckle down and offer more options,” said Chase Burch, the restaurant’s marketing manager. “We seem to serve a little more of, maybe not the mainstream customer, more the counter-culture, and they tend to be the early adopters of veganism.”

Lucky Slice, which also has restaurants in Logan and Clearfield, began offering an entirely meat-free menu last summer. Now they have four different vegan pizzas, from the sweet-spicy-sour Shirra to a more traditional margherita with vegan mozzarella. The cheese is a little stickier in the mouth than traditional mozz, but it melts evenly and has a mild flavor.

Because the pizzeria’s dough has always been plant-based, vegans can custom-order a pie, too.

“Some of our best vegan pizzas don’t have cheese at all,” Burch said.

The options don’t end with pizza and breadsticks. Lucky Slice has delectable fried cauliflower “wings” with a variety of sauce options and a vegan chocolate chip cookie.

“I guess it’s a lifestyle, but the (vegan) industry supporting that is definitely growing,” Burch said.

Cuppa opened on 25th Street this fall and as one of Ogden first exclusively vegan eateries. They have a colorful menu and a plethora of dairy-free milk options along with a beautiful modern space to enjoy them. This summer, they introduced a creamy plant-based soft-serve ice cream, which has been a hit.

RELATED: Cuppa brings Ogden a new vegan-friendly cafe with space for creativity

“We were willing to take a risk,” said Nate Sato, who co-owns the coffee shop with his wife Bec. “I’ve been really surprised with how well-received things have been.”

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That’s not to say everyone’s fully onboard. Cuppa still gets the occasional customer who balks when they can’t put a little cream in their coffee. But those who are willing to try something different are rarely disappointed, Sato said.

“We’re always happy to make suggestions, some drinks go better with certain milks,” he said. “Most people have been really, really happy, even surprised they could find something they like or like what they find here.”

One of Cuppa’s most creative and delicious food options is their barbecued jackfruit, which they serve in their street tacos and “sloppy jack” sandwich. It has an earthy flavor and a pulled pork-like texture.

“Jackfruit is just one of those amazing things, with the fiber of it, it just shreds that way,” Sato said. “There’s no processing, it comes out like that.”

Sato concedes that they could start offering dairy to attract a certain subset of customer, but then Cuppa would be like any other coffee shop. The beauty with a vegan menu, he said, is they have something for everyone to enjoy, complete with a little comfort.

“With so much that happens behind the scenes with food, to not worry about it is really nice,” he said. “I just think it’s definitely a good sign Ogden’s headed in the right direction. It’s something to be proud of.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.


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