Spoiled Vegans Cafe brings plant-based fare to everyone
From curbside pickup to a future East Village location, the breakfast spot serves food and lifts spirits during hard times
Todd Anderson never thought he’d be running a restaurant — let alone one serving vegan food.
“I had no intention of wanting to have a cafe. Three years ago I hated cooking, like I’d only make, I don’t know, microwave pizzas and hot dogs,” Anderson said, laughing. “I had no vision of this at all.”
“If you would have told me (a few) years ago ‘you should go vegan,’ I would have laughed at you,” he added.
Now Anderson is the co-owner of Spoiled Vegans Cafe, alongside his business partner and fiancee Samantha Aaron.
So how did a carnivore who couldn’t cook end up starting a successful vegan restaurant?
Though Anderson’s story doesn’t start in the restaurant industry, his journey did begin in San Diego. Anderson grew up Southeast San Diego, moved to North Park as a teenager and attended San Diego High School. After spending a decade bouncing between Palm Springs and Chicago — working in education as an admissions counselor — he found his way back home to Southern California in 2013.
But his vegan adventure actually began in Vegas a few years back. After a weekend trip with his friends, he returned home with a massive, two-day hangover. He felt that something wasn’t right with his body, so he started watching a food documentary for his health — accidentally finding veganism in the process.
Many of his friends laughed at his new “rabbit food” diet, Anderson said, but he was committed. He started photographing and filming the plant-based food he ate, and created the Instagram account Turnip Vegan. In just six months, the page gained 20,000 followers.
“I feel like a lot of the reason why (Turnip Vegan) grew is because people saw someone that they typically didn’t see eating vegan food,” Anderson said, adding that he, too, initially thought veganism was only “for a certain group of people.”
With his influencer status, creative eye and passion for veganism, Anderson started working as a videographer for companies like Everbowl and documented vegan dishes at restaurants in Miami, Los Angeles and San Diego. He even gathered up a group of people, dubbed Spoiled Vegans, to travel to Costa Rica, where he filmed the experience of folks finding vegan food away from their “spoiled” home in California.
Upon returning to San Diego, the group disbanded and the documentary didn’t come to fruition. But the name Spoiled Vegans, and its Instagram account, sat there for three months — until a friend casually remarked, “Spoiled Vegans sounds like a cafe.” That comment planted a seed in Anderson’s mind.
Soon after, he ran into the owner of Red Hat Coffee, an East Village shop located downstairs from his apartment building. When the owner asked if he knew anyone interested in partnering with Red Hat Coffee to offer food on the weekends, Anderson pitched himself.
Immediately, he and his partner Aaron got to work, creating a brand and experimenting with dishes in the kitchen. Though Anderson did not have any professional experience in the culinary field, he said that his experience shooting and editing footage of vegan meals guided him through the process.
A few weeks later, Spoiled Vegans officially became a cafe, holding its first pop-up at Red Hat Coffee in July 2019. The weekend events were a hit, bringing in about 100 people a day. Unfortunately, Red Hat Coffee decided to shift its focus to distribution, closing its doors and leaving the up-and-coming Spoiled Vegans Cafe without a home.
Rather than throwing in the dish towel, Anderson and Aaron decided to operate as a pop-up at outdoor events in Southern California, partnering with the likes of Genteel Coffee Co., Modern Times Beer and Vegan in San Diego.
Soon the cafe was blooming once again, with events booked through the end of May and future plans to open an East Village location. But in mid-March, the next hurdle hit: coronavirus. Within the next few days, Anderson’s email inbox was filled with news of event cancellations.
“It made us sit back and analyze if we wanted to even move forward,” he said. “There were days we were just ready to give up on the business.”
After some discussion, Anderson and Aaron decided to continue to serve the community. Due to the pandemic, they realized less vegan food was available to San Diegans than before, since many grocery stores carrying plant-based products were packed and some vegan restaurants stopped operating because of dine-in restrictions.
Spoiled Vegans Cafe pivoted from outdoor events to online pre-orders and curbside pickup on Saturdays. The restaurant also shifted from paid advertisements to promoting solely through Instagram.
And it worked — far better than they anticipated. Every week, the pre-orders sell out within minutes. Due to the demand, Anderson and Aaron were able to bring back two employees, as well as extend service to Sundays. The team cooks up the pre-orders in a commercial kitchen in North Park and brings the food to East Village for contactless pickup.
“I think because we were there for the community, that we built this relationship with certain customers,” Anderson said. “We would look at our orders, and we knew every single name. It gave us goosebumps to see the same people come every Saturday.”
The current menu focuses on morning fare, including the The Spoil Yourself Breakfast Sandwich and Let Go Of My Diego, a waffle-wrapped sausage served on a stick. Spoiled Vegans caters its menu toward non-vegans, creating food that reminds folks of what they usually eat.
Luckily, the pandemic has not halted the opening of the cafe’s new location. Spoiled Vegans Cafe will set up shop in the future East Village tap room of Local Roots, the Vista-based hard kombucha company. Anderson said he’s hoping to have the kitchen up-and-running by mid-July.
The restaurant will still focus on vegan breakfast, which Anderson notes is hard to come by in San Diego, but will add happy hour, lunch and dinner menu offerings, like waffle dogs, fries and burgers. Spoiled Vegan’s new kitchen will also switch to 100 percent air-fried food.
Though there have been many times Anderson has wanted to quit, the positive response his restaurant has received over the last few months has kept him going. In the midst of the pandemic, the George Floyd incident sparked Black Lives Matter protests and encouraged customers to patron Black-owned businesses. Anderson said this has made the community support for Spoiled Vegans Cafe even stronger. He added that his goal is to turn the heartbreaking situation into something positive.
“As we know, there’s not many Black-owned businesses in San Diego ... that reignited my fire because I want to be an example for the next generation or someone else — maybe a minority, or Black — if they want to start a business,” he said. “I feel like just my face being there and me representing a business will help inspire others.”
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