Elizabeth Bookman told a few friends and family members to come through her new restaurant, Vegan Food House, on the first day it opened in April.
“There was a line,” she says.
And that wasn’t just because she has 14 siblings. The fledgling restaurant draws a crowd every day it’s open.
Bookman started the restaurant with her husband, Anthony, after she introduced vegan menu items to her sister’s West Dallas restaurant, Da Munchies.
“Someone saw the menu on Uber Eats,” she says. “They came in versus ordering online and then they posted it on North Texas vegan [Facebook page], and boom! It blew up.”
It’s a matter of supply and demand, she says.
Only about 3 percent of Americans say they are vegan, and 7 percent say they are vegetarian, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. People most likely to choose fulltime plant-based diets are under 50 years old, politically liberal and earn less than $74,000 a year, according to that poll.
But anecdotal evidence proves there’s a gap in the market for vegan eats locally. Bookman says not all of her customers are strictly vegan. Some people make it a goal to eat no meat one or two days a week, or they just like the idea of a lunch that’s a little heart healthier.
Not everything at Vegan Food House is light or healthy.
“We fry things,” Bookman says.
Her dad, who she describes as a “cowboy” who loves eating meat, comes in twice a week and orders his namesake sandwich: Daddy’s fried ginger “beef.” The “beef” is made with seitan, a wheat-gluten meat substitute that they make in house. It’s battered and fried and then tossed in a ginger glaze, served on a bun with a smoky ranch sauce and slaw.
Seitan and mushrooms stand in for meat in many of the dishes at Vegan Food House. But there’s also a chopped “beef” sandwich made with jackfruit, and Buffalo wings made with cauliflower, plus nachos, jalapeño poppers and French fries.
Bookman went vegan about 11 years ago when it struck her, in traffic behind a livestock transport truck, that she can’t stand animal cruelty.
While she’s always been a good cook, it’s not like she dreamed of having a restaurant.
She worked in the nightclub business in Dallas in her 20s and owned a place in Deep Ellum called Chocolate Bar. Her husband’s job in finance led them to Utah, where she became a manager for Starbucks. And then she worked in
human resources for Concord Music Group in Los Angeles. Back in Dallas, her son was born, and she stayed home for nine years until her sister opened Da Munchies.
With that success, she knew it was time to do her own thing.
“We don’t pay attention to what anyone else is doing. We just do what we do, and we’re comfortable with that,” she says. “There’s not a lot of competition.”
Three of the eight employees are family or close friends of Bookman’s. She says she wakes up at 6 a.m. to shop and prep, and even though she lives a mile away, she typically doesn’t get home until about 9:30 p.m.
Vegan Food House is open on West Seventh at Tyler streets, Wednesday-Sunday.
“I’m glad people enjoy it. That’s why we do it,” she says. “I’ve always been into party planning and stuff, so for me, it’s like an ongoing event that I’m planning at all times.”