A 5,000-square-foot vegan cafe comes to D.C. So what?

On Tuesday, WTOP reported that a 5,000-square-foot vegan cafe will open south of Dupont Circle.

Native Foods, a California chain, offers the finest in faux meat, including a “Super Italian Meatball Sub” with seitan, an “Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger” with seitan and “Baja Blackened Tacos” with tempeh.

But in seeking vegan dollars, Native Foods will have to get in line. Post-Y2K, the diet once thought crazy is ubiquitous — and vegans are already doing pretty well in Washington.

New vegan spot in town? That’s a “man bites dog” story — or, ahem, maybe a “man bites soy dog” story.

Sure, the 20th century was a dark time for those who eschewed meat and dairy in the nation’s capital.

When cruelty-free tummies rumbled, they could not always find satisfaction. There was Harmony Cafe. There was Food for Thought. There was Soul Veg.

But great vegan food deserts also threatened. It was unwise to be caught without a packed lunch in, say, Judiciary Square, Capitol Hill or even Union Station.

This was an era for unsatisfactory dinners of salad and fries at the Bethesda’s Tastee Diner.

Vegans eyed folks chowing down on halfsmokes with great envy.

As Bob Marley put it: “Them belly full, but we hungry.”

But times have changed.

Among many other options for D.C. vegans are Sticky Fingers, Amsterdam Falafel, Busboys and Poets, Sweetgreen, Soupergirl, Elizabeth’s Gone Raw — and good choices at spots such as Busboys and Poets, Whole Foods and Smoke & Barrell.

According to one poll, D.C. is No. 6 on one list of top vegetarian cities in the United States — ahead of Chicago, home of the famed Chicago Diner.

“The number of vegan and/or vegetarian restaurants hasn’t risen dramatically, but the vegetarian options in restaurants certainly has,” Saurabh Dalal, president of the Vegetarian Society of D.C., told WTOP. “It’s much easier today to eat vegetarian and vegan — restaurants are more aware and it’s becoming more mainstream.”

Native Foods said vegans aren’t even crucial to their business model.

“Coming to the D.C. market is really important for us — there are lots of interesting neighborhoods, a very international community and educated people,” Andrea McGinty, co-owner of Native Foods, told WTOP.

Alas: Washington still does not have a Voodoo Doughnuts.

Justin Moyer is the deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
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