Farm Fresh Fast owner Jonathan Willis found out the hard way just how passionate the Greenville Vegan Society members are about their chosen lifestyle.
But what could’ve turned into a very public and ongoing feud between local omnivores and vegans — those who avoid eating or using any animal products or byproducts — has actually had the opposite positive effect with Farm Fresh Fast’s hosting a recent vegan society meetup that resulted in more than 80 members showing up at the small, 30-seat restaurant.
It started on March 28 when Farm Fresh Fast posted an event on its Facebook page that advertised an upcoming painting and wine night. The painting happened to be of a pig, and the highlighted dinner ingredient of the night was pork provided by Providence Farm. The idea of painting a cute pig while snacking on pork ruffled some feathers.
A lively discussion with members of the vegan community about humanely raised versus conventionally raised pork and the benefits of using no animal products at all ensued. To his credit, Willis has left the thread intact for all to see on the Facebook page.
Willis, who frequently posts photos on Instagram of the pigs and other animals being raised for the Farm Fresh Fast menu, says the trickle-down effect from that event discussion was something he couldn’t have anticipated.
As a result, Willis met with members of the vegan society, including founder Tracy Weaver, to listen to their point of view, which gave him the chance to share his. It also helped him realize the vegan community in Greenville, though small, is vocal, has buying power, and will promote businesses that cater to their needs.
On April 23, Farm Fresh Fast launched a “No Kill” menu, completely free of animal products, in addition to its regular pork, chicken, and beef offerings. It quickly became popular with vegans and non-vegans alike.
“I wanted to be as progressive for them as I have been for the local sustainable farms,” he says.
The changing menu features grain bowls, stir-fry, meatless “chicken” wraps, Buddha bowls, a grits and meatless “meatballs” dish, and more, with ingredients sourced mainly from local farms along with vegan proteins that can fool meat-eaters.
Willis says sales from this menu now make up more than 50 percent of total sales in the restaurant, and many of those orders come from people who have not adopted a vegan diet or lifestyle. And that’s a major win for vegans, Weaver says, as educating the general public that vegan food can taste good is a priority.
“You’re not living a deprived life,” she says. “Your whole perspective changes.”
Two years ago when Weaver, a registered nurse, formed the Greenville Vegan Society, she knew only two other people locally who were like-minded.
“There’s just three of us in Greenville, so we’ll be friends,” she recalls thinking at the time.
The three of them banded together and created a Facebook group and planned dinners out. The group now has close to 800 members, all of whom aren’t vegan, Weaver says, but are sympathetic to their cause or seeking more information.
The group’s goal was simply to start the conversation about veganism and make their presence known to local restaurants, she says.
“It would be so nice and be able to go out and not have to ask for accommodations,” Weaver says.
Many local restaurants, either in response to the Greenville Vegan Society’s requests or simply following dining trends, have added vegan options to their menus. For years, vegetarian options have been widely available, but finding restaurants with items that omit the use of animal by-products, such as eggs, dairy, and honey, has been tricky.
Other restaurants in town Weaver says have been especially accommodating are Generations Bistro, which is hosting a vegan wine dinner Aug. 22; LTO Burger Bar; Ji-Roz, which has vegan Thursdays; Chicora Alley; Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery; and Green Lettuce. Most recently, Due South Coffee Roasters has added a full menu of breakfast options, many of which are vegan because co-owner Patrick McInerney says there simply aren’t enough healthy, local options.
“Every day I hear about another restaurant,” Weaver says.
And when she does, expect to see a post on the Facebook group’s feed, asking the members to support the businesses making an effort.
“We want to show them that we’re going to support them,” she says.
She believes their supporting local businesses making these changes has helped the variety of options to grow significantly now that the demand has been established.
“We don’t have any completely vegan restaurants in Greenville,” she says. “The way we get there is supporting the ones with vegan options.”
Willis says he’s made it clear to Weaver and other members that Farm Fresh Fast will never be completely vegan, but he supports their choices and values their input as he continues to develop new menu items for the No Kill menu.
Weaver says the fact that he also draws meat-eaters in to the restaurant who then will try items off the vegan menu is likely better for the cause than if Farm Fresh Fast were completely vegan.
“I don’t think any have gone to the lengths that Jonathan does,” she says, acknowledging Willis’ continued efforts.