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Q & A with Kristin Lajeunesse, Who’s Eating at Every Vegan Restaurant in the USA

Allison McPhail of 5 A.M. Creative

Photo of Kristin by Allison McPhail of 5 A.M. Creative

Have you ever felt stuck? Trapped in your current life situation and yearning for change? Also, do you really really really like vegan food? Well if you haven’t heard of Kristin Lajeunesse, she’s way ahead of you. A little over a year and a half ago Kristin celebrated her five-year veganiversary by quitting her job as a successful social media manager, ending a long-term relationship, selling all her “crap”, and buying Gerty, a green ’95 Chevy sports van. Kristin had one goal in mind: to eat at every 100% vegan restaurant in these United States of America. She successfully ran a Kickstarter campaign, “Will Travel For Vegan Food” with a target of $9,682 and pledges of $12,560, made some mods to Gerty: removed the seats, built-in a loft bed, added storage and a chest for clothes, and hit the road. She is, of course, documenting the process and there’s also some blogging, vlogging, Facebooking, Instagramming, and Tweeting going on.

Kristin gladly accepts breakfast/lunch/dinner/shower invitations, so last week, I had the distinct pleasure of breaking bread with her at Real Food Daily in Santa Monica, California– and she didn’t make me feel even a teeny bit stalkery. Poised to be the absolute authority on vegan dining in America, she managed to find a few moments in-between meals to answer our questions and let us live vicariously through her for a little bit longer.

SuperVegan: Tell us about your trip so far: where have you been and how long have you been on the road?

Kristin: I’ve been on the road for 14 months now and have visited 46 states so far. The states I have left to visit are: Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and North Dakota (if I get to that one) ;)

Which restaurants have been some of your favorites so far?

I recently wrote a blog post naming my top 10 restaurants of the past year. But so far, my favorite remains Vedge in Philadelphia.

Any real misses? You don’t have to name names if you don’t want to, but have you been given anything inedible or just bad to eat? Any states you don’t ever feel the need to go back to?

To be honest, I’ve only had maybe 2 (out of about 400) bad experiences, and since I’m not a fan of talkin’ bad I chose to not write about those few misses, and and a result, the names of those places, and even their locations, have escaped my mind. Most of my travels have been quite lovely but I didn’t spend very much time in Delaware or Alabama. And I’m okay with that. Haha… I would however like to revisit New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. I didn’t spend enough time in those states and I’d like to go back.

How much more trip is left to travel and how much time does just NYC take up?

I have four states left (though I’m not making Alaska or North Dakota priorities as they don’t have any vegan eateries). I’m giving myself another three months to complete the west coast and then drive back to NYC where I’ll finish the trip.

I spent one week in NYC, at the start of the trip, and made it through 30 of the vegan restaurants. But according to HappyCow, there are just under 200 … so I need to go back to finish eating. Haha! :) Just today I firmed up a sublet for four whole months this summer. That should give me plenty of time to finish eating my way through one of my favorite cities in the US! :) [Editor's note: As of now, Happy Cow lists 129 vegetarian restaurants in the NYC area, and 53 vegan restaurants. SuperVegan lists 179 vegetarian restaurants and 66 vegan restaurants. There is variation between the two in terms of what counts as 100% vegan and in the geographical area.]

What’s been the hardest thing about the trip so far?

The hardest part of the trip has been having to leave new friends behind. In some cases I’ve spent 2-4 weeks in one location and have met some lifelong friends. It’s always very hard to leave them because I honestly don’t know if or when I’ll get to see them again.

Any big surprises? Either personal or food related?

I started the trip with an open mind and a ‘take it as it comes’ attitude, which has resulted in few surprises, it seems. However, personally I do feel like I’ve changed quite a bit. Before starting this trip I was relatively reclusive and not nearly as social or outgoing (unless I was around close friends). Time with new friends, and time alone have allowed for tremendous personal growth, which has enabled a better understanding of the type of person I was, the type of person I want to be, and where I want to go in life.

I find it easier to catch myself when I revert back to comfortable and less desirable behaviors that have in the past stunted my ability to grow, and be open, and outgoing.

I’ve learned that most people truly are good people. I grew up in a small town and remember learning that everyone is out to get you, always look over your shoulder, type of things. And while I do still use caution when traveling alone, or going about my day-to-day business, I’m much more open to conversations with complete strangers. I’ve learned so much from those interactions.

Regarding food – no big surprises but a few patterns have emerged. For example, Florida has a ton of raw food restaurants when compared to the rest of the country. Nearly half of the ones I visited were raw! You can get vegan crab, octopus, jellyfish, and sharkfin soup at a few restaurants in Los Angeles! And, I’m still working my way up southern CA but so far, even the “average” food on the west coast is just a tick better than the “really good” food in most other parts of the country, with the exception of NYC of course. It’s true! :)

Tell us something you’ve learned about vegan restaurants that you didn’t know before you started this.

Ooh! Great question! I’ve learned that most vegan restaurant owners are extremely passionate about the food they serve and mean well. I’ve learned that it takes a LOT of hard work to open, manage, and maintain a restaurant. It’s a 24/7 kind of job that requires multiple skills and unwavering dedication. While I may have become more critical of things like table service, plating, atmosphere, and social media management, after having dined at so many now, I also have tremendous respect for anyone who jumps in. It’s a demanding industry, to say the least.

5 Comments

  1. Comment by

    Kristin

    on #

    Thanks so much for sharing this update, Andrea!! :)

  2. Comment by

    al fair

    on #

    this is such a great project/plan/trip.

  3. Comment by

    Insufferable Vegan

    on #

    My goal for 2013 is to open an all-vegan restaurant in Alaska. I think I’ll call it Caribouddha.

  4. Comment by

    Jan

    on #

    Good read, plus luv the 2013 goal of Insufferable Vegan to open a vegan restaurant in Alaska. Have not yet traveled to Alaska but intend to some time in my life! Cheers Daughter, luv ya :-) Positive energies to all

  5. Comment by

    jenn

    on #

    I was in Philly two weeks ago, and my sister, husband & I dined at Vedge Restaurant. Let me just say that all the good things being said about that restaurant (it was VegNews’s Restaurant of 2012) are completely deserved. No wonder it’s Kristin’s favorite vegan restaurant so far!!! To die for – make a road trip to Philly & you won’t be disappointed!!! In all, Philly is really offering up amazing vegan options city-wide.

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