Plant-based paradise: Hendersonville is nourishing a growing vegan community

CHEEZE, PLEASE: The menu at Hendersonville’s soon-to-open Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Café will feature recipes from chef Laura Theodore’s television show, “Jazzy Vegetarian,” including plant-based pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, chili and more.
CHEEZE, PLEASE: The menu at Hendersonville’s soon-to-open Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Café will feature recipes from chef Laura Theodore’s television show, “Jazzy Vegetarian,” including plant-based pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, chili and more. Photo by Andy Ebberbach

It’s no secret that Asheville is a popular destination for plant-based eaters — the city has long made headlines with its vegan-friendly food scene. But Hendersonville, Asheville’s smaller neighbor to the south, is becoming a serious competitor when it comes to vegan eats.

The small, close-knit town — population 13,840 — has seen a slew of vegan and vegan-friendly spots and options come to the table in the last several years. This could arguably be a domino effect started by the all-vegan Sanctuary Brewing Co., which opened in 2015. 

The philanthropically focused brewery opened after co-founders Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan decided to leave their former careers in corporate consulting and accounting, respectively, to pursue their shared passions for craft beer and animal advocacy. McDonald thinks Sanctuary’s unique mission has helped shift the town’s attitude toward veganism. 

“It basically says to the general public, ‘Yes, we’re vegan, but there’s nothing different about us whatsoever.’ We’re just a brewery that makes beer and happens to really like animals and show compassion in the world,” she says.

The couple also run Sweet Bear Rescue Farm in Flat Rock, a nonprofit that’s home to some 17 or so rescued animals, including turkeys, chickens, a pig and goats. “I think there are still some stereotypes about vegans being kind of off-from-center a little bit, maybe fringey — and that’s really just not the case anymore,” she adds. “It’s a pretty mainstream movement, and I think SBC really shows that.”

Jazzing things up

Now Sanctuary is in the process of expanding to open an on-site eatery, the Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Café. Leading the effort is chef Laura Theodore, star of PBS Food’s Taste Award-winning cooking show “Jazzy Vegetarian.”

The menu will feature some favorites from Theodore’s show, including the Ultimate Jazzy Burger, Famous Vegan Reuben Sandwich, vegan “egg” and “chicken” salads, along with pizzas, chili, lots of small bites and a kids menu. There will also be desserts like Divine Chocolate Mousse Cake and Mini Raspberry Cheeze-Cakes.

“Having a place in Hendersonville for nonvegans to embrace plant-based meal options, while offering enticing items for vegans, will help bring the community together while exploring the endless possibilities that scrumptious vegan food has to offer,” says Theodore. The cafe is slated to have a soft opening sometime this month.

The nearby small community of Horse Shoe also has its own plant-based eatery, the family-operated Garlik Vegan, which specializes in 100 percent meat-, egg- and dairy-free pizza, sandwiches, entrées, baked goods, salads and desserts. Garlik’s most popular items are the taco pizza and white pizza. But the extensive menu also includes items like “chicken” wings, “shrimp” skewers, Philly cheezesteak,  stir-frys, soups and more. 

Garlik opened in March and has already seen an overwhelming response, says co-owner Christine Kozlik, a self-taught vegan chef who has been vegetarian since her teen years and went vegan five years ago. While they expected only a handful of people at the soft opening, the restaurant was jampacked. “Holy wow, the place was full,” she recalls. 

Kozlik and her husband, Michael Garrett, along with daughters Rayven, 18, and Aleigha, 16, and son Zen, 10, sold the vegan eatery and photography businesses they owned in Florida before their recent move to North Carolina. After noting that the Hendersonville area needed more vegan food options, they decided to set up shop nearby.

Regular patrons include vegans and nonvegans, says Kozlik. “We have awesome people coming in here every single day,” she says. “The community is phenomenal. We feel like we’re a part of it, and we just moved here.”

No restaurant, no problem

New plant-based options are even popping up in Hendersonville outside the usual restaurant context. Trey Singleton started his career as a chef at the San Francisco Bay Area’s landmark all-vegan Millennium Restaurant and later worked with executive chef Jason Sellers at Asheville’s Plant before taking his current position as a bartender at Sanctuary. 

He now takes opportunities to exercise his culinary talents locally, including cooking Sanctuary’s weekly donation-based Sunday meal and partnering with chef Michael Gilligan to present a recent 22-person vegan beer-pairing dinner at Harvey’s at the Henderson Inn.

“I think Hendersonville’s vegan scene is just as good as Asheville’s,” says Singleton, noting Sanctuary’s upcoming eatery plus Garlik Vegan, along with the numerous plant-based options always available at the Hendersonville Community Co-op and Deli. “Then all the restaurants around here know what’s going on, too, so they’re adding vegan options to their menus.”

There’s even a coffee business in Hendersonville that’s plant-based. Candice Pritz and her husband, Zach, have embraced veganism for about three years and founded their small-batch specialty coffee business, ShareWell Coffee Co., in 2016.

Pritz lists health and environmental reasons for their dietary choices. But she also stresses a desire to “spread awareness of the bogus monopolizing food industry and, of course, the horrendous methods of animal cruelty being practiced.” 

Their products can be found at many local spots, including Sanctuary, Garlik, Plant and more. The company also hosts all-vegan pop-up cafes at various locations. It’s very unusual, says Pritz, to find coffee events that don’t offer milk products, “but the truth is, there are some killer plant milks out there that pair very well with coffee, so there is absolutely no need for the dairy.”

Join the club

In addition to new plant-based eateries and pop-up options, the area recently saw the launch of the Hendo Supper Club, a vegan dinner meetup that brings groups to omnivorous restaurants for custom meatless experiences. The idea was the brainchild of local resident Meg Hoke, a friend of McDonald’s.

“I had the idea because one of the hard parts in the beginning of eating vegan was such limited options in restaurants,” says Hoke, who gradually began adopting a vegan diet last year. “I thought if local places realized there was a market for more plant-based dishes, they might offer more options. And being a strong extrovert, I am always looking for opportunities to hang out with marvelous people. So I thought maybe we should coordinate with local restaurants to have a supper club.”

Originally, Hoke envisioned the group as maybe seven to 10 people who would contact a chosen restaurant in advance to see if it could accommodate them for a vegan meal. But it quickly grew into a full-fledged supper club.

“It’s a way to get people in Hendersonville together like any supper club — the food just happens to be plant-based,” she explains. “This way we’re not catering to vegans; we’re catering to anyone in Hendo who’s interested in having a great meal.”

The group meets monthly and is growing steadily — 16 people attended the first dinner this winter at Postero, and by the March 22 gathering at Brandy’s on Main, there were 30 diners. The club’s Facebook group, which currently has about 70 members, is open to anyone, whether vegan or omnivorous, and attendees tend to come from both camps.

“We can show the restaurants that we’re friendly, we’re positive, we’re good tippers, and we know a thing or two about food,” says McDonald. “So we try to make it a positive experience as far as outreach, and at the same time, we’re winning by letting restaurants know that they can make delicious vegan food.”

As much as the Hendo vegan community has going on now, the future looks even tastier. McDonald expects the supper club to continue to grow, Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Cafe is just weeks away from opening, and Garlik is starting to launch regular events, including vegan education seminars, cooking classes, gallery nights showcasing vegan artists and more.

“When we do these classes, we see it working for vegans and nonvegans alike,” says Kozlik. “I want everybody to find their tribe.”

To join the Hendo Supper Club, look for the group on Facebook.

The Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Cafe is scheduled to open in late May at Sanctuary Brewing Co., 147 First Ave. E., Hendersonville. Look for updates on the Jazzy Vegetarian and Sanctuary Brewing Co. Facebook pages.

Garlik Vegan is at 3754 Brevard Road, Horse Shoe. Find details and menus at garlikvegan.com.

Sharewell Coffee Co. is at 416 N. Main St., Hendersonville. For details, visit sharewellcoffee.com.

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