Sunday, April 6, 2008

A table-side chat with a Pretender or how I ate Chrissie Hynde’s fake chicken

While I have seen famous people periodically, I generally don’t approach them. But this Friday, as we were singing the praises of The VegiTerranean, the owner Chrissie Hynde entered the restaurant. At first, we were fairly confident that it couldn’t possibly be the singer; we were eating dinner in Akron after all. But when we asked our waitress, she said, “oh yeah. I didn’t realize she was in town.” I vacillated about approaching her, but then with support from my fellow diners, I felt compelled to speak to her about the success of her restaurant and her motivations for creating this establishment.

Approaching gingerly at first, I told Ms. Hynde that I wrote a blog, and wondered if I might speak to her. She was gracious and enthusiastic. Of course, she said, because she would like to really do anything that helps her restaurant.

I was very interested and impressed with her involvement with the restaurant. It was clear that her commitment was quite sincere (and of course her commitment to an animal-free diet is well-known.) She said that she began with the concept of the restaurant in part because she wanted some place to eat out when she came to Akron. And, then she met with the chef, Scotty Jones, as she called him. (As I am not a Pretender, I assume I would call him Scott.) He spoke to her about the vegetarian possibilities in Italian food; but she felt at first that “he didn’t get it.”
One of the most striking things about what she said was that as a vegan she felt that other restaurants were “contaminated”. This is something that Hindu and Jain vegetarians and Orthodox Jews have discussed with me. And, it is definitely something parents of children with allergies feel. So, I felt a real connection to this statement; we always fear what sorts of allergens might come into contact with my Belle’s food when eating out.

Scott Jones had a breakthrough and decided that they would create a restaurant that was not just vegetarian but vegan. I think this choice was a brilliant one—it freed the chef from certain veggie clichés but it also allowed his ingenuity to shine. Ms. Hynde, who said she was a “brown rice vegan” for years, believes that a wonderful restaurant and a vegan restaurant are not mutually exclusive; but that would be in part due to planning and understanding your audience. A few vegans have come up to her since its opening to tell her thanks her for meeting their special needs; but they were not her only audience.

And meat substitutes are great for that other audience. Working with the Kosher community, they decided to use Gardein meat. She chose this product because it was just plain tasty—to the meat eater and non-meat eater alike. My friends and I were honest about our apprehension about fake meat. And, when we said, next time we might try it, she told us—no, try it now from my plate. Yes, we ate a piece of fake chicken from Chrissie Hynde’s plate. And, the Gardein was tasty.

While she is clearly a rock-star, Ms. Hynde struck me as being a good business-woman. She had just flown in from London and after a quiet dinner with friends, she still welcomed talking to a nobody about her restaurant. Like many business owners, success depends on believing in your product—and she clearly does. But, ownership is about stewardship, a blended skill of listening and demanding. She clearly expects a fine restaurant but has listened to others about how to accomplish this feat.



Chewbabka said...

so she actually came back to Ohio!!! Awesome!!

and incidentally I'm pretty sure she knew that you aren't a nobody...

Anonymous said...

How cool was that?! Do you happen to know if GArdein products are available in any markets locally? The ste did not give any purchase info aside from SYSCO.

maybelles mom said...

Oh chewbakka you are such a ladies man/woman.

And Life in Recipes, I really don't know. I was thinking about calling VegiTerranean and asking.