Imagine Vegan Cafe
Peace, Love and Healthy Pub Grub
By Beth Argo
You may say that Adam and Kristie Jeffrey are dreamers but when they opened Memphis’s only totally vegan restaurant, their dream of encouraging healthy and “compassionate eating” in the Bluff City came true. Imagine Vegan Café in Midtown’s historic and hip Cooper Young District dishes out more than just heaping helpings of lettuce and sprouts. There are more than 90 items on their menu, ranging from spicy and sweet to Southern-fried favorites like crispy chicken, cheese sticks and hushpuppies.
In fact, some of their most popular menu items are comfort foods like chocolate peanut butter bomb cupcakes; creamy mac and cheese; beef tips and rice; the Memphis Slam (biscuits topped with sausage, gravy, scrambled eggs and cheese sauce); Dogs in Blankets; the Philly Cheese Steak; and, of course, the Vegan Memphis (the barbecue sandwich). While menu descriptions may include words like cheese, chicken, steak, pepperoni, sausage and milk, it refers to the vegan substitute for those ingredients. DeSoto County native, Kristie Jeffrey, puts it simply, “If it comes from an animal, we don’t use it.”
Many Americans, including former president Bill Clinton and daytime TV host Ellen DeGeneres have eliminated animal products from their diet. But what exactly are the ingredients in the alternatives like those served at Imagine Vegan Café? Kristie Jeffrey explains, “Soy, wheat and wheat gluten make up the main ingredients in our mock meats. It just depends on the consistency you are trying to achieve.” The Jeffreys say that their omnivore customers often remark on how they “can’t tell the difference.”
The desserts at Imagine Vegan Café have received rave reviews, too. “Oh my, you almost can’t put words around the desserts,” Kristie Jeffrey says excitedly. Local baker, Stephanie Roy, of Swell Baked Goods, supplies all of Imagine Vegan Café’s sweet treats. “She can make just about anything you could ever imagine, no pun intended. One of my favorite things she makes are ‘Fauxstess Cupcakes’. They mock a Hostess cupcake right down to the cream filling. They are out of this world!” Their growing and ever-changing selection of sweets, without eggs, has become quite popular, not only among vegans, but also with kids who have egg allergies—a common childhood food allergy.
Imagine Vegan Café is actually quite kid-friendly. The Jeffreys, who are parents to three girls—Savannah 11, Sierra 3, and Madalynn 1—wanted kids to feel at home when they came into the restaurant. “Children have a tendency to get bored in the restaurant atmosphere, so we really wanted to do something about that.” The Jeffreys created a movie nook, have a Wii set up for “gamers,” offer toys and tricycles, and even have a tiny kitchen play set for kids. “It allows parents to eat while their kids have fun,” says Kristie Jeffrey.
The Jeffrey girls have even contributed a few of their handmade works of art to the walls of the restaurant, adding to the mix of John Lennon posters and overall midtown mellow vibe and décor. Kristie Jeffrey describes the restaurant as “very laid back and deliberately not fancy.” They also believe strongly in “reduce, reuse and recycle.” “It’s the primary reason why our dishes don’t match,” laughs Kristie Jeffrey.
Much like the eclectic
dinnerware at Imagine Vegan Café, the restaurant’s customers are a dynamic and diverse mix of people: some are trying to make healthy changes in their lifestyles, some are battling chronic illnesses, and some are crusading for a cause. But, they all seem to have something in common—a willingness to try something new and a belief that things can change. Kristie Jeffrey sums it up with a smile, “They see hope and promise that if a vegan restaurant can survive, here in barbecue country, anything can happen.”
broaden your horizon
Learning about vegan,
Vegans eat a strict plant-based diet. Most vegans list three main factors that helped influence that decision: compassion for animals; environmental concerns; and of course, the myriad of health benefits. Obviously, Imagine Vegan Cafe’s menu doesn’t really look like your typical health food fare. “Often people in our society are misled into thinking that vegan food is all about health and fancy food you can’t even pronounce. We wanted people to see that you can ‘eat vegan’ and still enjoy comfort food without consuming actual animal products or by-products,” says Kristie Jeffrey, who had been a long-time vegetarian before switching to a vegan diet with her husband nearly four years ago.
But eating a dairy-free, egg-free, meat-free diet has its challenges, especially when it comes to dining out. That’s why Kristie, a former flight attendant, and Adam, a musician, decided to open the café in April of 2011. Since then, Imagine Vegan Café has become a popular place for those who partake in a plant-based diet. But, with so many scrumptious stand-ins for meat, dairy and eggs, many non-vegans are eager to give Imagine Vegan Café a try. “We have just as many ‘meat-eaters’ as vegans and vegetarians. Most of the ‘meat-eaters’ that we have come in are either just trying something different or doing one day a week meatless. Many of our customers are trying to reverse some sort of heart disease, diabetes or cancer. That is very common,” says Kristie Jeffrey. Adam Jeffrey adds, “We have a girl that comes in that actually beat leukemia. She ate a raw diet and beat it. Now she sticks to a vegan diet.”