SAINT JOHN – Keith and Sarah Broome are going to open their vegetarian restaurant “Vegolution” in Uptown Saint John and have settled on a location – the site of the former Reggie’s Restaurant on Germain Street.
“We’re excited to tell people we have chosen a space and that it’s definitely happening now,” said Sarah in an interview last Friday. “We told people we’d have it open in a year and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen.”
Since Reggie’s closed in 2010, there have been two burger places in the same location, Relish and Burgerology, which closed shortly before Christmas. Keith and Sarah reached out to building owner shortly after the “for lease sign” appeared on the window.
“Three different people messaged us and said, ‘I saw a sign on Burgerology.’ Oh, we’re on it [we told them],” said Sarah.
They had looked at other potential locations in the city centre, but this one suited their needs the most. It already has a kitchen and will seat 30 or more people when they complete renovations, they said.
The burger places didn’t last very long, but they hope “Vegolution” will become a community hub much like Reggie’s, which had been open for more than 40 years before it closed in 2010.
[Reggie’s] was quite the happening spot,” said Sarah. “Hopefully we can bring that same kind of vibe back.”
There has been a lot of early enthusiasm for Sarah and Keith’s plan for a new vegetarian and vegan restaurant, which Saint John hasn’t had for more than 25 years.
In October, they started circulating a survey on Facebook to gauge interest and get feedback on their idea; they received more than 750 completed surveys in just a few days.
In early February, they hosted a sold-out pop-up restaurant at happinez wine bar and had 100 people on a waiting list.
Financing also came together just as the Germain Street location became available. They’ve nearly reached their $10,000 goal in a GoFundMe campaign and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has also agreed to provide financing.
“We have a pretty strong business plan and our marketing strategies and our financial targets work well,” said Sarah.
Keith has been a sous chef at the Saint John Ale House for 10 years and he has experimented with vegetarian dishes during his time there. He hosted a three-day pop-up restaurant there a couple of years ago, which sold out. He also did a “Vegeburger Wednesday” for three years, where he made different kinds of vegeburgers from week to week.
“We had an incredible following,” said Keith. “We’d sell more vegeburgers than regular burgers on those days.”
Keith says vegeburgers will be on the lunch and supper menu. “Our vegeburger game is strong,” he said.
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, [but] I always sold out,” said Sarah in an interview with Huddle last fall.
Keith is a longtime vegetarian who has been cooking mainly meat dishes in his restaurant jobs, and they both look forward to preparing an exclusively vegetarian and vegan menu.
Cooking meat has never bothered me because I’ve done it for so long, but it’ll be nice not to,” said Keith. “I want to work on doing innovative things with vegetables, instead of with meats.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of market research, going to places that offer vegetarian or vegan dishes,” said Sarah, “and we’re getting pretty excited about the dishes people will see coming out of our kitchen.”
Vegolution will cater to vegetarians and vegans, but Sarah says they’re also good at making dishes that appeal to meat-eaters. Keith has his award-winning vegetarian poutine, says Sarah, and she makes donairs that rival the real thing.
“I think my donairs are going to be a hit with all the men out there that still eat meat,” she said. “It actually looks like the sliced, packaged processed donair meat. I fed it to Keith’s dad and uncle, who are hunters and meat eaters. And they loved it.”
Vegolution will be open from Monday – Saturday for lunch and supper. It will have a “to-go” fridge stocked with prepared foods that can be eaten at breakfast or lunch.
“We’ll have the ‘to-go’ fridge filled with some of the stuff I would have made at the market,” said Sarah. “The idea is we won’t serve breakfast, but people can come through the door and get something from our to-go fridge for their breakfast or lunch. It also offers a quick lunch for someone who just wants to pay for it and leave. They can also dine in as well and order from the menu.”
They plan to source their ingredients from local organic farmers and serve Canadian craft beer and wine with their meals.
Keith will remain with the Ale House for a few more months, and they hope Vegolution will be open by summer and will employ between four and six people.
Interior designer Kim Jacobson is going to help give the new restaurant a more modern look but still keep it warm and welcoming.
“It’s going to be a very quaint kind of cozy place,” said Sarah. “There’s not a lot of space in there. It’s long and skinny. We hope to make it comfortable and flow well, so customers can chill, eat and drink.
“We want it to be more of a ‘mom and pop’ shop.’ You can get to know everyone who comes through your door. That’s what we were aiming for and we found it. It’s a great spot.”