LOS ANGELES — They built an empire peddling vegan living, selling salads and serenity at healthy restaurants in California. But their views on the food chain evolved and, in the end, karma knocked.
The restaurateurs — Terces and Matthew Engelhart — placed a mission statement at the bottom of the menu at their Café Gratitude, talking of a world of plenty and a “celebration of aliveness.” But when the once-vegan owners went public with their decision to raise and slaughter cows for meat, they were met with death threats.
Protesters gathered at the restaurants chanting, “We will not be at peace until the animals are released!” A boycott page surfaced on Facebook and famous vegans, including the racecar driver Lelani Munter and Moby, a musician and fellow restaurateur, publicly criticized the couple. One celebrity chef wrote that patrons felt “deliberately lied to” by the Engleharts.
The threats have subsided, and now there is little sign of distress at their restaurants in Southern California.
Servers continue to take diners their entrees accompanied with an ever-changing daily question. They have asked, “What is your gift to give?” and, “What brings you joy?”
The implication is that the restaurant is a sliver of nirvana. There are messages of joy etched on the water pitchers, and the women’s bathroom mirror announces, “I adore myself and everyone else.” (Do I really? I could not help but wonder when I stopped in for lunch, unable to decide whether I should love the place for its good food or despise it for its too-precious attempt at happiness.)
What is most remarkable about Café Gratitude is its unabashed attempt to create a kind of animal-free utopia. There are no spaces free from its brand of positive thinking. The menu — from entree to dessert — reads like a catalog of affirmations. A diner doesn’t order peach juice, but a glass of “Cheerful.” Entrees with names like “Humble” (an Indian curry bowl), “Warm Hearted” (grilled polenta) and “Transformed” (mole tempeh tacos) are followed by desserts of hempseed chocolates and raw cream pie that go by “Delighted” and “Rapture” on the menu.
Each plate comes with the message in black paint: “What are you grateful for?”
Written on the windows are positive declarations: I am awakening, grace, jolly, precious, eternal, luscious, bliss, divine, calm, delighted or adoring.
If the messages on the plates and menu are not enough to offer some kind of precious inner peace, the community bulletin board is filled with offerings for meditation challenges, courses in new science and consciousness, bhakti yoga festivals, the “I am Renewed” juice-cleansing program and tantra immersion retreats. It’s enough to make even the most blissed-out, vegan Angeleno cringe.
The Engleharts declined to be interviewed for this article. But speaking to The Hollywood Reporter this year, they expressed shock that their personal eating habits would affect customers.
“It saddens me that the choices we made in the privacy of our home would lead people to feel so betrayed that it’s elevated to threats on our lives,” Mr. Englehart said at the time. “I’m very discouraged.”
But any sense of gloominess is absent from the Engelharts’ restaurants.
The Café Gratitude menu (seasonal, of course) leaves you with this message: “We select the finest organic ingredients to honor the earth and ourselves, as we are one and the same.”
While the Engleharts may be eating meat at home, they have vowed that no animal products will cross the threshold of their restaurants.
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