With a growing number of eaters adopting a plant-based diet—one in 20 consumers call themselves vegetarian according to Meat Atlas of the Friends of the Earth and the Heinrich Böll Foundation—restaurants are trying to meet the demand. In Detroit, one fast-casual vegan restaurant is working to prove vegan cuisine can be healthy, delicious, and fast with innovative and unconventional food combinations that are appealing to the masses.
The Fuel, a gluten-free, dairy-free, animal-product-free, and oil-free restaurant is thriving in a suburb of Detroit, MI—the fourth most vegan-friendly city in the United States, according to PETA—is dispelling the myth that healthy food is boring and tasteless. Driven by a passion for healthy, vegan food, The Fuel’s menu includes a chocolate shake made with banana, cacao, and mesquite; a cinnamon roll made with dehydrated bananas rolled in soaked raisins; and a caramel sauce made with dates, water, cinnamon, and vanilla.
The Fuel co-creator Kelli McMullen tells Food Tank that inspiration for The Fuel came from wanting something like this for her family’s own consumption. “I have a background in nutrition and understand the benefits of a clean, plant-based diet. I have been eating this way for more than a decade and know the physical and mental benefits. It’s something we wanted to share with our community.”
While concerns about a vegan diet exist, and research that has vilified meat consumption is in question, nearly all medical professionals and nutritionists agree it is beneficial to consume more plant-based foods. According to a recent study presented at Nutrition 2018, the flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, eating a plant-based diet will lower the risk of plaque build-up in the arteries of the heart and leads to fewer risk factors for diabetes. And the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health released the world’s first-ever scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production, recommending people fill half their plates with fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Experts have touted the health benefits of a plant-based diet for decades, and now taste is a key driving factor in the growing shift towards this lifestyle. “Despite the fact that health attributes factor strongly in consumer decisions when purchasing plant-based proteins, at the end of the day, taste is the driving force behind purchase and eating decisions,” says Billy Roberts, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.
McMullen tells Food Tank, “I honestly think people are surprised that fruits and vegetables can taste so good! Our passion is to serve flavorful food that is healthy. Most people think that healthy food doesn’t taste good, and we wanted to break this stereotype. Surprisingly, a large percent of our clientele are people who love meat. I think we’ve been able to prove how good vegan cuisine can taste. People are shocked when we tell them even the sour cream and bacon are vegan.”
McMullen believes that while they may be one of the first in the surrounding area to open a plant-based restaurant, there will be more to come. “I think people are sick and tired of feeling heavy and not having any energy. We believe in the power of food to heal ailments and sickness, and help people live a happy life.” The fast-casual vegan restaurant also boasts a southwest sweet potato toast topped off with a cashew-based sour cream, and flax crust pizza topped with eggplant bacon and microgreens.
In addition, The Fuel is trying to source more local food. “We take great pride in sourcing our produce locally to take advantage of rich, healthy soil cultivated by small farmers. Buying local also helps us minimize our business carbon footprint by reducing the distance the food must travel to get to our restaurant.”
McMullen tells Food Tank, “We have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback and the sheer number of people who have come through our door to eat a vegan menu. People want to feel good and more and more people are realizing this can happen by eating wholesome, plant-based foods.”
Feature image courtesy of Spencerfield.me