Vegan and vegetarian students eating on Route 1 no longer have to worry about finding something meatless on the menu since the city’s first vegetarian/vegan restaurant, Ovo Simply Veggie, opened in mid-January.
Although a surge of new restaurants catering to different tastes, including Mediterranean, Mexican and hot dog enthusiasts, have sprouted up in recent months, Ovo Simply Veggie owner Derrick Chang hopes his restaurant, located down the street from Cornerstone Grill and Loft, will expand students’ palates to Asian-based vegan food.
Several students said the eatery is a much-needed addition because of the rising popularity of vegetarian diets. Many restaurants that advertise as vegetarian or vegan friendly only offer a few meatless options, which makes an eatery with a completely vegan menu unique, said junior art major Cindy Tran, who works at the restaurant.
“I know there’s lots of people [who eat] at Sprouts and the Co-op,” said Gnanitha Manne, a sophomore economics major. “That’s why people prefer North Campus Diner, even though South Campus Diner is better. So I think [Ovo Simply Veggie] is good.”
Despite a slow start after the restaurant’s opening Jan. 12, business has been steadily increasing to about 30 transactions a day, Chang said. The busiest times are evenings and weekends, especially Friday nights, he added.
“The space itself looks very nice and compliments [sic] the other newer businesses in Terrapin Station (Ivy Noodles, Big Play Sports Grill, and Pho Thom),” wrote Michael Stiefvater, the city’s economic development coordinator, in an email. “I’d expect them to do well given the unique concept and high-quality build-out.”
With nine years of restaurant experience, most recently managing a Panda Express, Chang hopes to attract people to a healthy, vegetable-based diet.
“My motto is not really to convince anyone to give up eating meat,” said Chang, who has been a vegetarian for more than 23 years. “But I want to at least make people consider eating more veggies. It’s a different way of thinking. You don’t get into anybody’s way, but at the same time, you help advance your philosophy.”
Ovo Simply Veggie sells vegan dishes infused with Asian flavors, such as Thai, Chinese and Indonesian. Appetizers, for $4 or $5, include Vietnamese wraps of jicama and shallots, wok-charred edamame and enoki fries — crispy, fried mushrooms served with curry mayo sauce.
For about $9, customers choose a protein: seaweed yuba, tofu, mushroom, soy or vegetables, and then a sauce: black bean, ginger soy, fiery kungpao, peppercorn tofu or eggplant basil, among others. Dishes come with rice and a soup, salad or beverage. The restaurant specializes in organic teas.
Chang said his menu’s flexibility is unique in the tristate area.
“When I tell people I’m a vegetarian in a restaurant, their first response is, ‘Oh, here’s your salad menu,’” Chang said. “And I’m not a salad person — so I want to offer something that’s hot.”
Ben Chang, a freshman physics major, said the restaurant could add more variety in its proteins, but he enjoyed his first sampling of vegan cuisine.
“I got the tofu with black bean sauce and the lychee green tea,” he said. “Despite the small selection of proteins, they made up for it with really good sauces. … It was really, really good, like, I’m definitely going to go back there again.”
The restaurant’s atmosphere was unique, he added. The eatery features a sparse, futuristic style with cubist, brightly colored art.
“The way it’s designed, it’s sort of modern and Asian combined. They’re clean and uplifting,” Ben Chang said.
Ovo Simply Veggie is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday. Derrick Chang said he’s hiring and in critical need of workers.
In the future, Chang plans to bring in new flavors, such as barbecue, and expand his restaurant into a chain.
Several non-vegan students said they’d be willing to try the meatless food. Joe Simcox, a senior German and linguistics major, said it was a good change of pace from many traditional Asian restaurants on Route 1.
“I’m not vegan — I need meat in my food,” Simcox said. “But I’d check it out. I do eat healthy sometimes.”
Another new restaurant on Route 1, Ivy Noodles, opened in early December and serves a variety of Asian noodle dishes for less than $9, including lo mein, noodles in soup, fried crispy noodles, sauteed rice noodles and wide noodles. The owner could not be reached for comment, and Stiefvater said he was unsure how business has been so far.
“They did a nice job on the build-out and made it a place where you sit down and have a meal, not just take your food for carryout,” Stiefvater wrote.