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Powered by Plants: Can Spokane’s plant-based scene be improved? Three experts weigh in

RÜT Bar and Kitchen owners Josh Lorenzen and Justin Oliveri are photographed in their restaurant holding the beetroot and pear salad and the jalapeno mushroom burger soon after they opened their restaurant in 2019.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
RÜT Bar and Kitchen owners Josh Lorenzen and Justin Oliveri are photographed in their restaurant holding the beetroot and pear salad and the jalapeno mushroom burger soon after they opened their restaurant in 2019. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Glover For The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, we have a problem. A big, boring, bland, option-less, plant-based problem.

Pick a city, any city – as small and Spokane-like as London, Ontario, as big as Atlanta or New York – and pretty much without fail, you’ll find more interesting vegan options.

We’re talking an all-plant-based Mexican food stand. Or completely vegan Thai food. Vegan sushi. Plant-based Nicaraguan food. Or, dare I say, vegan breakfast.

Take Atlanta, for example. I recently visited America’s air transportation hub on a whim, and what I found astounded me: more vegan options than I could ever hope to try in a week, let alone a month.

Even more soul-crushing: the vegan options had style. Pizazz. A voice. A … soul. There was a vegetarian soul food restaurant with barbecue and nondairy ice cream. There was a small Mexican restaurant in a food market that served spicy jackfruit and stuffed peppers.

And then there was a burger joint with a decidedly non-family-friendly name. The restaurant was loud and crass. They shouted your order over blaring hip-hop music. If it was your first time in, they made sure everyone knew.

All of this got me thinking: What types of plant-based options do Spokane’s plant-based people want to see? And do they think Spokane could ever be as hip and cool as Atlanta?

C.J. Morrison of Courage for Animals

When not protesting in favor of animal rights at Pig Out in the Park, Hoopfest and other Spokane events, C.J. Morrison, leader of the vegan outreach group Courage for Animals, has just one simple desire: a vegan taco.

And no, not the kind you could theoretically achieve by asking for an over-the-top order at any eatery. She wants options, baby. And if those come attached to a truck parked somewhere downtown at say 2 in the morning, even better.

“I would love to see so many vegan Mexican food options,” Morrison said. “An entire vegan Mexican restaurant would be insane. That’s the hardest thing to find here without editing it a whole bunch.”

And as for the following morning, nothing would hit the spot better than an all-vegan coffee stand. Perhaps some vegan breakfast thrown in for good measure.

Morrison says while visiting other cities, it’s hard not to feel jealous. Even places like Dallas seem to have us cornered.

There’s a place there called Spiral Diner and Bakery. It’s got “everything you could think of,” like pancakes (gluten-free, too), nachos, tofu scrambles, breakfast burritos, burgers, sandwiches, salads and smoothies.

The best part? Every item is completely vegan. No chance of a mix-up or accidental serving of beef. “If it’s not fully vegan, there’s all these horror stories of mistakes,” she said. “It spreads within the vegan community. It could happen any time.”

Josh Lorenzen, vegan restaurateur

There was a time when Josh Lorenzen struggled with his food identity. For years, the co-owner of RÜT and Cascadia Public House has been choosing a plant-based diet over something strictly vegan – he doesn’t eat meat, but he also doesn’t say no to dairy or eggs.

For many, that can be a sore subject. It’s difficult to talk about, let alone admit, especially after making the plunge into full-time veganism. But for Lorenzen, it’s shaped his entire mindset: Why be ashamed of something when the entire movement could benefit from folks being more open-minded?

A plant-based diet works best when newcomers and looky-loos feel welcome, he says, not looked down upon. “Plant-based eating is just good for you,” he said. “And bringing down your animal consumption is great for the world. RÜT is taking that and making it accessible.”

RÜT has quite the reputation. Since opening in 2019, the small restaurant on the lower South Hill has kept busy bringing in all types of diners with varying degrees of open-mindedness. What Lorenzen hears often, though, is how accessible vegan cooking can be if done right.

And that’s exactly what he’d like to see more of. More restaurants offering more fully vegan dishes. And not just as a concession.

Places like, say, Cascadia, which recently opened a new location near Gonzaga. The restaurant and pub is known for its embrace of two different cultures – a “normal” menu for the meat eaters and a vegan menu for the boycotters.

“I think having a more conscious approach for people to be around the same table would be great,” he said. “Meaning there’s all sorts of walks of life. Some are more meat and potatoes. I would like to go to dinner with them and order a plant-based meal.”

Arica O’Dell, vegan hairstylist

On Instagram, she’s Vegangelical, a fun-loving hairstylist whose clients sport bright, colorful heads of hair made possible with completely vegan products (no filters needed). Offline, she’s like the rest of us, craving foods the Spokane vegan scene simply can’t fulfill.

“It would be really awesome to have a buddha bowl place or a place to get vegan Italian food, like lasagna or eggplant parmesan,” O’Dell said. “I make a killer lasagna, but it would be nice for other people to get some.”

Like her full-service hair appointments, her suggestions don’t stop there. She wants it all. More food trucks (vegan or otherwise), a vegan Indian restaurant, a vegan buffet or a place to get a salad that’s not $18. The question is could Spokane support it? And would it?

Like an ant colony, the local vegan community often reports back to the hive where the next best vegan treasure trove can be found. Maybe it’s a particularly good deal at Grocery Outlet. Or a taco stand in Spokane Valley that’s testing a vegan menu on Saturdays.

If that continues, Atlanta – no, New York – is the limit. “Spokane, I think we can definitely handle some cool restaurants,” O’Dell said. “We’re on our way.”

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