SAINT JOHN – Keith and Sarah Broome have believed the city would support a vegetarian restaurant since they organized a three-day pop-up restaurant at the Saint John Ale House nearly two years ago.
“It sold out every night,” says Keith, the executive sous chef at the Ale House. “The entire restaurant was flooded with vegetarian [food].”
The pop-up restaurant, which featured dishes like a vegetarian chicken-ball dish, a vegan mac and cheese, and a vegetarian donair, served as a way of testing the market for a full-scale restaurant.
“It was us showing people that it would work, and it was way more successful than we had expected,” says Sarah. “At that point, we were like, ‘this could definitely work in the city.’ Up to that point, everyone was like, ‘no, you’d be wasting your time and money. It’s never going to work in this city. They’re not ready for it.’ To me, it didn’t make sense because every other city has a vegetarian restaurant. Why don’t we?”
Nearly two years later, Saint John still doesn’t have one, but Sarah and Keith are taking steps toward creating one. In early October, they started circulating a survey on Facebook to gauge interest and get feedback on their idea; they received more than 700 completed surveys in just a few days.
They also created a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook page promoting vegetarian food and culture in Saint John called, Vegolution, which features pictures and posts about vegetarian dishes they create at home.
Sarah and Keith are still very much in the early stages of establishing a restaurant. They’re developing a business plan and have spoken to agencies and organizations like the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Enterprise Saint John. But they don’t yet have a location or a potential launch date.
They see the creation of the Facebook page and circulating the Facebook page to “keep the buzz going amongst our potential clientele,” says Sarah.
Even though they’ve long had plans for a vegetarian restaurant and believed one would work here, they can only now start turning their minds towards the executing idea.
“We just paid off personal debt,” says Sarah. “Of course, we still have our home [to pay for] and a ‘new-to-me’ car. But we have no looming personal debt anymore. Now we can start saving more seriously for the restaurant.”
Keith says that will take time, but he wouldn’t leave his current job soon anyway.
“I’m pretty loyal to the Ale House and I can’t leave with two months notice,” he says. “I want to stick around for at least six months to a year.”
Keith has worked at the Ale House for 10 years, but Sarah is a vegetarian cook as well. She started out with a stall at the Saint John City Market nearly five years ago and then moved to the Queen Square Farmers Market, where she had a booth this past year every second week. She made things like a portobello mushroom jerky, a homemade roti and red lentil hummus.
“I was keeping it simple this year,” she says. “[But] I always sold out.”
Sarah says she may set up a booth at the Cedarcrest Gardens winter market. But they’ll mainly focus saving money and working on their business plan for the new restaurant.
And Keith will keep making meat dishes he can’t sample himself. “I can taste it before you put the meat in it,” he says. “That the trick.”
Sarah says it will be nice when he can taste everything he cooks, though.
“He’s been a vegetarian for 24 years,” says Sarah. “But he still butchers animals and cooks meat. He has to rely on other people to taste it. Ultimately he’d like to be in a situation where he doesn’t need to do that anymore. He could taste all of his creations.”