How to start a vegan restaurant

My dream is that one day, people won’t be asking questions like “where do you get your protein?” and “what do you eat?” when they encounter a vegetarian or vegan for the first time. I hope to accomplish this dream by making delicious vegan food affordable and accessible to everyone. Once there are good vegan restaurants like Terri on every corner, I’d like to see a paradigm shift in the way we think about what we eat.

" /> How to start a vegan restaurant My dream is that one day, people won't be asking questions like "where do you get your protein?" and "what do you eat?" when they encounter a vegetarian or vegan for the first time. I hope to accomplish this dream by making delicious vegan food affordable and accessible to everyone. Once there are good vegan restaurants like Terri on every corner, I'd like to see a paradigm shift in the way we think about what we eat.">
 
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How I Started A Vegan Business in New York City

How to start a vegan restaurant

My dream is that one day, people won’t be asking questions like “where do you get your protein?” and “what do you eat?” when they encounter a vegetarian or vegan for the first time. I hope to accomplish this dream by making delicious vegan food affordable and accessible to everyone. Once there are good vegan restaurants like Terri on every corner, I’d like to see a paradigm shift in the way we think about what we eat.

I’m the co-owner and co-founder of Terri, a popular vegan restaurant in the heart of Manhattan. My restaurant serves tasty organic super foods created to resemble familiar American favorites for people on the go. I believe that wholesome foods should no longer be a luxury and at Terri, we strive to make it the standard.

My inspiration for opening a vegan restaurant was my desire to combat the common misconception that eating a plant-based diet is a sacrifice. I love food and I really enjoy eating. So, when I decided to stop eating animal products, I sought out the same comforting flavors that I was familiar with growing up, while also exploring delicious foods I had never tried before. I found that there were a lot of products that claimed to taste like the original, which very clearly didn’t, but that there were also many products that, when prepared correctly, tasted so good that it could fool my own meat-eating friends.

Terri gets its name from Mike’s (Michael Pease, co-owner of Terri) and my respective mothers. While growing up, I spent a lot of time  in the kitchen with my mother and my grandmother, who was the best cook I’ve ever met. I wanted to honor the matrilineal line of my family, and  it seemed only natural that I would choose a name that reminded me of where my culinary education came from.  Coincidentally, my business partner, Mike’s, mother also shares the same name, so when it came time to name our restaurant, the decision was easy.

Mike and I came to NYC with the intention of learning the ropes from established vegan restaurants and taking what we learned back home with us, upstate. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to help open a few vegan restaurants, all of which are now considered some of the finest in the city.  We learned a lot and worked with some of the best vegan chefs in the country. Because of our hard work and dedication, we were named partners at one of the restaurants we managed. Then, with a little bit of luck, we received the opportunity to open our own restaurant and decided that it was now or never.

Opening a vegan restaurant is hard work, but extremely rewarding. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t rush the opening: One of the biggest lessons I learned was to be completely ready before you open to the public. There’s often  pressure to open as soon as possible in order to have positive cash flow, but opening prematurely is a big mistake. A mistake that will cost a restaurant far more than it could ever make by opening a few days, or even weeks early. The initial buzz will only turn into negative reviews and people who would otherwise try you out, may pass you up completely. It can take years to undo the public’s first impression.

2. Appeal to non-vegans: You can’t rely only on vegans to support your business. It’s imperative to appeal to the mainstream. Vegans make up less than 5% of my clientele. Many of my most loyal customers are hardcore meat eaters. In my opinion, it’s important to make them feel welcome so they not only return, but also have a good feeling about vegetarian and vegan food in general, and may end up becoming loyal converts!

3. Surround yourself with good people
: I also strongly believe that the people you surround yourself with, will define your success. Mike and I have been very fortunate to work with an incredible group. Everyone we work with is a key player. No one can do it all by themselves, so it’s crucial to surround yourself with talented people that you can rely on. I also believe in hiring kind, pleasant people because I can teach anyone the basics of how to work at Terri, but it’s hard to teach kindness.

4. Be a committed vegan yourself. Another important thing I’ve learned while running a vegan business is that it’s important to be vegan yourself! This may sound slightly obvious, but I’ve realized that being vegan keeps me in touch with a lot of the new and developing trends that my customers want to be a part of. It’s also just nice to be able to speak to customers about new vegan food products or even non-food products that we’ve both just discovered and share a love for.

5. Your customers are your business: Most importantly, remember that it’s really the customer that determines exactly how successful you are. Even if you are dedicated and work hard, surrounded by great people, it won’t matter unless your customers want to keep coming back. Not only is it important to give them what they want from a service perspective, but also to simply be personable and really care about them as people. Not only can you not fake sincerity, but everything is more enjoyable when you truly look forward to going to work and interacting with the people that make your business.

My goal for Terri is that soon there will be one on every corner in the world. Related to that, my goal for the world is that one day vegan food would be the norm, so that we eat better, live better, and help the animals to live better, too. I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope to see YOU at Terri soon!

Craig Cochran, Terri. Contributor - One Green Planet Craig Cochran is Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Terri. After managing at some of the finest vegan restaurants New York has to offer, including Angelica Kitchen, Candle 79, and Cafe Blossom. Craig soon discovered a serendipitous opportunity to open his own restaurant called, Terri with his friend and now business partner, Michael Pease. Terri, named after Craig’s mom, is located in the popular and bustling Chelsea neighborhood of NYC and has quickly became a local and vegan favorite.

Want to start your own vegan business? Have a Question for Craig? Ask away in the comments section below!

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17 comments on “How I Started A Vegan Business in New York City”

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Natasha
2 Years Ago

Hello Craig! Im from Russia, and I want to translate this interview for my blog about veganism. Also, with the publication in a Russian magazine about vegetarianism, of course, with link to the original article. We really need photos - yours and your restaurant! Can you help us?


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TokyoVegan
2 Years Ago

Hi, Craig. Thanks for sharing your advice, especially about need to appeal to non-vegans. It's a big enough risk to open a restaurant, without limiting your customers. I'd be very happy to help bring your restaurant to Japan in the future! William


Reply
Andrea Petrone
2 Years Ago

Dear Craig, we really admire your idea and your product/cuisine. Are you are interested to open such a restaurant in Italy (Milan), considering that there is almost no competion for this type of restaurant up till now here? Ciao! Andrea


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Fran Costigan
3 Years Ago

Craig, thanks for the informative article and the great food and drink available at Terri! I'm lucky to have Terri situated in one case, next door and in the other case, around the corner from the 2 NYC schools where I teach my vegan desserts classes. Your juices are my fuel and my students pop in during their quick breaks. It was much needed but still without the business sense, success cannot happen. Super job! Fran


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Hi Fran, Thanks so much! We love to hear when our customers are happy. I hope you stop in and say hi soon! Thanks again, Craig

Kim Yoon
3 Years Ago

Very interesting read. Craig, have you encountered any customers who get turned off by the fact that you don't use any animal products (including milk) in your menu? What challenges have you faced in terms of addressing questions from customers who may not be very informed about vegan or vegetarian food?


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Hi Kim, Thanks for your questions. Even when a customer isn't very familiar with vegan or vegetarian food, we usually find that they are happy to be trying something new. Occasionally, we get requests for cow's milk in coffee but once we tell the customer that we have non-dairy alternatives like soy or almond or rice milk instead, we find that people are more than happy with one of these options! One of the challenges I alluded to in my article is just that there is a lot of misinformation out there about a vegetarian diet. Often times, customers will ask about what some good sources of plant-based protein are, whether soy is actually good for you and just about vegetarian health in general. Usually though, I find that these are the best times to have a great conversation with a new and interested customer - and they usually end up loving Terri! Thanks again for your questions Kim - they were great! Craig

steph50
3 Years Ago

RT @OneGreenPlanet: Have a dream of opening a vegan business? Read how Craig (our new columnist) and founder of @NYCTerri did it! http:/ ...


Reply
Jasmine lee
3 Years Ago

Craig, why do you call your restaurant organic vegetarian? Is it a strategy to trick people :-p


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Hi Jasmine, Thanks for your question! It's definitely not a strategy to trick people. :-) We call ourselves organic vegetarian because that's exactly what we are! Sometimes, people are more familiar with the term vegetarian than vegan and we'd like to draw in as many people as possible. Also, as I mentioned in my article, we want to be as accessible to as many people as we can - so we thought this was the best way to do it. Customers end up coming in and chatting with us about the food and the restaurant, and these are the best opportunities to both get to know them and also to talk a little bit more about Terri! Thanks again for your question, Craig

Benny
3 Years Ago

Steve said it, good read. Now send us some recipes!! The food in the photos look delicious!! Are those doughnuts vegan??!!


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Hi Benny, They definitely are vegan! Those are our apple cider donuts - stop in and say hi sometime and grab a donut while you're at it! Craig

Steve Karr
3 Years Ago

Hey Craig, good job. You make me want to write about my little joint too! We need to get out there and inspire man.


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Thanks so much Steve! Craig

Gemini
3 Years Ago

OMG, I see Craig all the time when I go to get my smoothies! Congrats Craig!


Reply
Craig Cochran
09 May 2011

Thanks so much! Craig



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