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Vegan community leader opening plant-based The Plot restaurant in South Oceanside

Restaurateur Jessica Waite feeds her African spurred tortoise some leafy, green vegetables at her Oc
Restaurateur Jessica Waite feeds her rescued African spurred tortoise, Winston Churchill, some leafy, green vegetables in the backyard of the Oceanside home she shares with her husband, chef and fellow restaurateur, Davin Waite.
(Bill Wechter / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Oceanside restaurateur Jessica Waite is well aware that some of her fellow vegans can get a bit carried away in the aggressive advocacy of their lifestyle.

But Waite, who has been vegan for the past 10 of her 36 years, said she prefers the kinder, gentler approach to promoting what she calls the “dietary evolution.”

With her husband, renowned local sushi chef and omnivore Davin Waite, she runs two Oceanside restaurants that serve a mix of seafood, animal protein and vegan options. And come August or early fall, the Waites will open The Plot, a “proudly plant-based” and “zero-waste-ethos” all-day restaurant at 1733 S. Coast Highway in South Oceanside.

Waite said she sees the addition of The Plot to their restaurant portfolio as the logical next step in meeting the needs of the region’s restaurant diners who are transitioning to more plant-centric diets in increasing numbers.

“I am trying to be open and honest in my beliefs without cramming it down people’s throats,” she said. “Whatever stage they’re at, we want to find a way to connect with people and their food in a non-preachy, positive and solution-based way.”

Waite and her husband are longtime leaders in the sustainable food and zero-waste movement. This year, she was also appointed president of San Diego’s Berry Good Food Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing a healthy, integrated food system by educating, connecting and supporting food producers and consumers.

Danielle Petze, who does a vegan podcast under the name “Vegan Danielle” for Specialty Produce Network in San Diego, said she wasn’t sure what to make of Waite when she met her in 2017.

Petze said she wondered how a truly committed vegan could run restaurants that serve animal products. But she softened when she realized that the Waites’ restaurants — Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub and The Whet Noodle ramen shop — have long coaxed meat- and fish-eaters to give the plant-based diet a try.

“She’s a crazy strong person for being able to do that,” Petze said. “Jessica is the perfect balance of loving and caring for animals and being open-minded enough to realize that the whole world isn’t going to go vegan overnight.”

Petze said she has noticed in recent years that the local interest in plant-based eating and restaurants has grown dramatically.

“I think nationally people are realizing that even if they don’t consider farm animals pets they’re realizing that environmentally we have to go toward something a little more sustainable,” she said.

Davin Waite
Chef Davin Waite inspects a shipment of fruits and vegetables outside his Oceanside restaurants, Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub and The Whet Noodle.
(U-T File)

Waite was born in Alaska, the oldest of four children born to earth-loving parents who met while working summers together at a fish cannery in the tiny coastal town of Naknek. When she was in second grade, her family moved to Kirkland, Wash.

Her family had dogs, cats, rabbits and goats, they composted all their food waste and everyone shared alike in tending a backyard garden. When Waite was 7 years old, she was persuaded by a cousin to become a vegetarian because of her love for animals. Then at 15, after reading about the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle in “The China Study,” she began experimenting with veganism.

After high school, she dabbled in college and paid her bills as a hostess and waitress for The Claim Jumper restaurant chain. That job eventually brought her to the chain’s Carlsbad location. Eight years ago, she met her husband, Davin, when she went to work at his now-shuttered Oceanside restaurant, The Fish Joint & Cafe.

When that restaurant closed, Waite said her future husband, who’s now 40, won her heart by packing a vegan box lunch for her to take to work each day.

“Falling in love with an omnivore was not in the plan,” she said. “But Davin has complete respect for the food he cooks. If you take a life, you don’t waste anything.”

They married in 2015 and share a home in Oceanside with their three rescue pets: Johnny Rotten, an 8-year-old Maltese/Yorkie mix; Sherman, a 12-year-old Maltese/poodle mix; and Winston Churchill, a 100-pound African spurred tortoise. They also spend time with Davin’s three sons from previous relationships, Rowan, 14, Cash, 13 and Liam, 11.

In 2013, they opened Wrench & Rodent, a sushi/seafood izakaya at 1815 S. Coast Highway with a name inspired by the whimsically titled pubs in his parents’ native England. Two years later, they opened The Whet Noodle in the space next door.

Over the years, Davin Waite has gradually expanded the number of vegan items offered at both restaurants, including the Hangry Vagan ramen bowl, tofu nigiri and multiple plant-based sushi rolls.

Waite — who has a psychology degree from Cal State San Marcos and an MBA in management from Pepperdine — said she wrote up her business plan for The Plot in 2017. After she and Davin shared the proposal with their longtime friend, chef and restaurant consultant Christopher Logan, he signed on as a partner in the project.

After scouting locations all over the county, they found a recently closed restaurant just a five-minute walk south of their other locations. It’s a large space with more than 4,000 square feet. They plan to divide it in order to create a 100-seat dining room and use the back portion of the restaurant as a vegan-only prep kitchen. The kitchen will help support future plans for The Plot catering services and more The Plot locations.

The Plot will operate as a coffeehouse/juice bar/cafe with counter and takeway service during the day and as a full-service restaurant at night.

In keeping with their sustainability goals, none of the ingredients the restaurant will buy will be destined for the landfill (like unrecyclable packaging) and every consumable element of the plants — stems, leaves, roots — will be used.

The menu is still in development, but Waite said The Plot won’t serve any faux meat products. Dishes will likely include soups, salads, veggie sushi, falafel, krauts, breakfast burritos with scratch-made tortillas, broccoli stem salsa and sloppy joes made with shiitake mushroom stems.

All produce will be sourced from local farms including Cyclops Farms, Community Roots Farm, Mindful Mushrooms, Palmquist Elementary’s Roadrunner Farms, Adelynn Sue’s Organic Avocados, Rancho J’Baily, Sundial Farms, South O Garden at South Oceanside Elementary and Teri Inc., as well as Specialty Produce.

For more, visit theplotrestaurant.com.

Restaurateur Jessica Waite, with some of the leafy, green vegetables she will be featuring at her ne
Restaurateur Jessica Waite, with some of the leafy, green vegetables she will be featuring at her new Oceanside restaurant, at her Oceanside backyard garden area Friday. photo by Bill Wechter
(Bill Wechter / San Diego Union-Tribune)

pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com