When Donald Lemperle was preparing to open Vegenation in downtown Las Vegas, the idea of a plant-based restaurant a block from the still-developing Fremont East stroll was anything but a sure thing.
“I remember walking down Carson Avenue at night and it being dead quiet and abandoned,” the chef recalls. “I was really concerned. I said, ‘Oh, my God, I’m putting everything into this. How is it going to work out?’ ”
Lemperle says he had two goals for the new eatery: “To raise awareness and let people know what vegan food actually is” and “to really make it a community-based restaurant.”
On Wednesday, Vegenation will celebrate five years in that location. And Diana Edelman, creator of the Vegans, Baby website, says Lemperle has succeeded on multiple levels.
“Because of his downtown location, just the hip vibe they put out, and how he really focused on bringing in the community (with things like local artists) Recycled Propaganda’s art, I think he really made it cool,” she says. “And then, because of its location, it really brought in a lot of people that maybe weren’t vegan but just saw it as just a cool place to hang out.”
For his part, Lemperle is thrilled with the way he’s been embraced by local and visiting vegans, and the downtown community.
“When I walk into the dining room, and just see the variety of people, it’s really amazing,” Lemperle says. “I try to pinch myself. Because it’s not one typical group. It’s a whole mixture.”
Of course, the dining room is empty these days. But the restaurant continues to serve the community with curbside pickup and delivery service. And on Friday, the team reopened its Henderson location to do the same.
“I saw the demand was there,” Lemperle says, noting the emails and phone calls he’s been receiving from fans on that side of town. And while he’s had to scramble a bit to make sure he has all of his supplies — which include many local products — both spots offer full menus. He’s even planning some pop-up specials such as homemade ravioli and “chicken” and waffles.
The chef also says that in the midst of this crisis, more people are looking for cuisine like his.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for people to reset, and assess what’s going on in the world. People are starting to be aware of the environment. And a plant-based lifestyle is the most friendly toward the environment.”
He’s determined to show newcomers to the cuisine that it goes beyond the “tofu and sprouts and hippie food” they might have imagined.
“It hits so many cultures and has so many things to give. It’s got unlimited possibilities, which I love.”