Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lento Situation, aka, I am disappointed in myself and other vegans

I've noticed lately that Lento hasn't had any vegan menu options available and that they've stopped labeling certain dishes as vegetarian. Concerned, I sent them an email asking about the change, and this is the response I received later that afternoon:

We are no longer offering vegan entrees on our menu, but if you call ahead and let us know we will be happy to put something together for you.  I hope this is helpful.  We still offer two vegetarian options nightly.

I was crazy disappointed. Lento, the Rochester home of the slow food/locavore movement, was ditching vegan grub. What with all the articles in the local paper lately about veganism and even Wegmans jumping on the vegan bandwagon, I wondered how Lento could possibly be taking steps that seem, well, rather backward. So I asked, not really expecting a reply, but lo and behold, here is the incredibly deep, responsive, and authentic email response:

I am glad you asked.  The reasons were many so here is a synopsis of why we made this difficult decision.  The first reason was that vegan entrees were not our original focus and I felt that we were putting things together hastily and not to the best of our ability.  

Another reason was all of the negative feedback we were getting online and most of it was from people complaining about the vegan food.  I honestly do not think it was vegans complaining, but people who ordered vegan food because it was the most inexpensive thing and not tasting "normal" to them.  In that vein we were not receiving any positive feedback about our vegan food which did not encourage us to keep it up.  The blogs or internet sites we check are rocwiki, urbanpoon, yelp and opentable so feel free to read these.  

Finally it was an image thing as you mentioned.  We are a slow food restaurant which is a very unique concept for the Rochester area and one many do not understand.  When I explain my concept nine out of ten people will respond "so you guys are a vegetarian restaurant."  Slow food is about farm to table and this included meat, which I get from local sustainable farms.  I think many people are so far removed from their food that they do not equate meat with coming from farms anymore.  I want to create a restaurant after Alice Waters or Melissa Kelly who are chefs I learned from and cook with sustainable seasonal ingredients and do not focus on vegan or vegetarian foods.  

I will continue to keep creative vegetarian options on the menu and again we will absolutely accommodate vegans especially if they give us advance notice.  I have nothing but respect for vegans and honestly believe it is a smart way to eat, but my restaurant and focus includes animal based products.  Thank you for your inquiry and I hope to hear from soon.

Wow. This is clearly an individual who cares about what he's doing and who he's doing it for, and frankly, we vegans as a community dropped the ball. It's partly our fault that one of the best restaurants in the region has stopped regularly including vegan dishes on the menu, for all to see, and it's because we didn't take the time to say thank you. I'm guilty of this myself. I spend time emailing restaurants when they fail, but I forget to praise the restaurants that continue to plug away and provide great vegan service. We're fighting an uphill battle as it is, particularly in this region where the signature dish, The Garbage Plate, is a giant heart-attack-inducing pile of fried meat and cheese slop. This is often a willfully ignorant area of the country, clinging to its God and its guns and its deep fried flesh just as much as areas below the Bible Belt. 

We, as a community, have got to work harder. We've got to flood the internet with praise for our favorite veggie places, or else who knows if they'll keep being our favorites for long.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jessi, for posting this. I went to Lento with some friends a couple of weeks ago for the first time in about a year (I am vegan and the friends I went with are omnivores). I must admit that the tofu dish I had there last year was good, but not great. I now realize that I should have showed Lento some support back then for offering vegan options. This time I did not check the menu prior and just assumed that they still served some vegan dishes. I was so disappointed once I looked at the menu and my first reaction was, "Typical Rochester!". This is an unfair response and Jessi is absolutely right...we dropped the ball. I was able to order the buckwheat pasta dish sans the goat cheese and ricotta. It was absolutely AMAZING! I am not impressed easily when it comes to food, but this was out of this world. I will write to Lento and let them know this. I also intend to contact The Owl House, Dogtown Hots and other local restaurants that offer vegan options. We need to support vegan food in Rochester.

    I also wanted to spread the word in case people are not aware... The Nathaniel Square Corner Store offers a vegan menu every Wednesday from 5-8p. I order something every week that I am able to get there, even if I'm not all that hungry :) Everything I have had so far has been excellent. The owners said that every week they are selling more and more off the vegan menu. Who can resist vegan mac salad? There is a link to their vegan menu on their homepage