Veggies take a blow as Red Bamboo brings in meat

The Brooklyn Paper
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Vegetarianism may not be dead, but it’s certainly on life support.

The latest example? Red Bamboo, the beloved fake meat restaurant in Fort Greene, known for its popular “beef” kabobs and pseudo soul “chicken,” is abandoning the meat-free life like a college freshman running away from his parents.

Starting next month, the restaurant will change its name to Poppa’s Place and start serving — holy alfalfa sprouts — real animal flesh!

Owner Jason Wong says he won’t completely ditch his iron-seeking vegan customers — he’ll keep the most popular soy-based dishes on the menu. But Wong needed to come clean about his own personal betrayal of what insiders call The Life.

“I eat meat,” said the former vegetarian. “And I’m ready to serve meat.”

He’s not the only one. This year, “Brooklyn Goes Veg” week was cancelled for lack of interest altogether. Last year, during the second — and as it turned out, last — year of the fortnight of legumes and seitan, vegetarian proprietors were already saying their customer base was in steep decline.

The Brooklyn Paper’s coverage said it all: “Stick a fork in it,” read the 40-point headline. “Vegetarian­ism wilts on eve of boro fest.”

Now, more soy chickens have come home to roost.

“When we opened in 2006, we were full, people wanted to try the food,” said Wong of his Adelphi Street eatery. “Then 2008 came. I noticed credit cards sales higher than cash. Then in 2009, I was like, whoa, where did the customers go?”

But the economy was far from the only culprit.

Organic, free-range, “humanely slaughtered” meats are now all the rage, giving carnivores a full menu of excuses.

“The concern now is more about locally grown and less of a carbon footprint. Being a carnivore doesn’t mean you don’t care,” Wong said.

“The trend in restaurants is toward less processed food, more naturally raised,” added Wong’s chef Billy Ahearn. “With all the processing that the soy product goes through, and the science that has come about it, soy seems to have gotten a bad rap lately.” (Not to mention the fact that the cost of soy products has skyrocketed by 35 percent since 2006, according to Wong.)

Even Melissa Danielle, who spearheaded the ill-fated “Veg Week,” has moved away from veggie advocacy in favor of organic foods.

“I am more interested in … making sure that all Brooklynites have access to healthy, quality, affordable food, period,” Danielle said in an e-mail.

Of course, if toxic meat appears in the headlines again, the vegetarian ranks could swell again.

“There hasn’t been an animal epidemic in a while,” said Wong. “Avian flu, hoof and mouth, mad cow — those helped my business so much.”

Poppa’s Place, formerly Red Bamboo [271 Adelphi St. at Dekalb Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 643-4806].

Updated 4:38 pm, December 16, 2009
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Reasonable discourse

Amanda Kuntzman from Park Slope says:
Oh yeah, he loves meat. Others don't know, but for years he has been secretly stuffing the meat in his mouth. Enjoy it in the open, eat their meat. Great with their hot gravy. Yum [drooling like homer simpson]
Dec. 16, 2009, 10 am
Cody Pascal from Brooklyn says:
First of all Stephen Brown, vegetarians are not "iron deficient". That's like saying steak eaters are fat because some Redneck Texans are huge. I'm a vegetarian and I can guarantee that I am in better shape than 3/4 of the meat eaters in this country.

As for Red Bamboo turning into a "meat friendly" restaurant, I think that's a load of crap. We don't need another meat serving restaurant in the area. I've had plenty of meat eating friends that actually preferred Red Bamboo's food over real meat.

That fact that the owner was selling a product he doesn't believe in disturbs me and probably most of his vegetarian customers, but I guess that is what America has come to. I know that I will not set foot into Red Bamboo or "Poppa's Place" after reading this article.

Wong talks about "organic, free range" meats, but if he didn't really care for his previous product, he probably won't care about his new product. I bet he'll serve Purdue chicken and Stop n Shop brand ground beef that's 35% fat.

Personally, I am 98% sure that this new restaurant will fail. I don't imagine many customers returning to this location since the only draw was the food. The service wasn't ever up to par and at times it was horrible. I don't expect that to change since Wong will still be running the place and obviously never cared about his previous customers. It was the only vegan option in the area and that's why I ate there.
Dec. 16, 2009, 5:19 pm
Karen D from Brooklyn says:
This sucks. I used to love eating there and now I can't. What the hell? Why would anyone ever switch. We don't need another generic restaurant.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6 pm
Winwood41 from Fort Greene says:
I can't believe this. Actually, this article pisses me off. Why the hell would you even open up a vegan place if you don't eat that way? I say we have a peaceful protest on opening night! Who's with me?
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:07 pm
Karen D from Brooklyn says:
Hahaha.......I got the cow costume.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:09 pm
Jessamine from Park Slope says:
I love how Amanda lays it out there. "He loves meat, stuffing it in his mouth with yummy gravy, oh yes, ooohhhh!"

This is a disgrace, it's just another step back that we should have seen coming.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:12 pm
Rajeev from The BK says:
Yea, it's meat, not sex! but i guess this is how it has to be.......i thought that this place would be there for a long time and i actually enjoyed the one in the city as well. i guess the one in the city is owned by non-vegans too. :-(
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:20 pm
Nate from NYC says:
I don't see the big deal, he is still keeping some veggie dishes and also allowing meat eaters in. Let's be fair.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:30 pm
Alyssa from Soho says:
At least the one in the city will still be around, but im upset that the owners aren't vegetarian.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:35 pm
Duval says:
It could be worse, he could get rid of all soy dishes. At least there will be options!!!
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:37 pm
BumpR from Fort Greene says:
The only reason it'll be called Poppa's Place is because they already have a sign on the building. Except for the new sidewalk the city's put out front, there will be nothing new or original about this place. Old name, crap food.
Dec. 16, 2009, 6:44 pm
Bill from Cobble Hill says:
I've been happily vegetarian since I was sixteen and so I guess I don't understand the draw of the faux meat-type dishes. Since the thought of eating meat makes me feel ill, I'd rather not have an imitation- meat experience. So, maybe it's not that vegetarianism is in decline, but that people are turning away from weird foods that pretend to be something they are not.

I agree with Cody Pascal (above) that there is no reason to connect vegetarian/vegan diets with iron-deficiency and certainly no reason to go running to soy - raisins, prunes, kidney beans, peanuts, kale, collards, lentils, etc. are all good sources - not to mention beets and curry-powder.
Dec. 18, 2009, 2:16 am
Janet from Park Slope says:
Here we go again. Restaurants open and close all the time, and the writer shouldn't seek to find more significance in the closing of Red Bamboo Brooklyn than there is. There are more and more vegetarian restaurants opening and thriving in Brooklyn, in New York City, and in the world at large. If this "Poppa's Place" maintains the same level of service which RBB did, they're not going to last long. It's not about the meat.
Dec. 18, 2009, 2:53 pm
matthew from harlem says:
I agree with Janet from Park Slope. Stephen Brown your article and the title would be better served in an op-ed piece than in the news category. It's not at all well researched. Red Bamboo Brooklyn was notorious for a non-attentive and not hospitable staff. Also it was very difficult to get your bill once you finished a meal served cold. I wish Jason the best but I disagree with his theory on how to turn around his failing restaurant. After trying to support it for years most vegans/vegetarians I know just steered clear in frustration. There are more and more vegetarian/vegan restaurants New York City. Check with Rynn Berry, the author of “The Vegan Guide to New York City,”. Also Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy is metromix's Chef of the Year . Cost of soy doesn't seem to have effected the owners of the veggie restaurants in my neighborhood, who I spoke to. They explain that the price of a dish has little to nothing to do with its ingredients compared to economic factors like rent, salaries, etc. I hope the rest of the Wong family haven't taken Jason's perspective.
Dec. 18, 2009, 4:49 pm
Eric from Park Slope says:
This article is absurd. Because one restaurant decides to serve meat, vegetarianism is on the decline? I think not. Veggie and vegan restaurants continue to spring up all around Brooklyn and NYC and are thriving.

As for "humane slaughter", what an oxymoron. Tell that to the billions of animals killed each year. If you wouldn't eat your dog or your cat, why would you intentionally cause needless suffering to another animal that can feel pain?
Dec. 21, 2009, 2:41 pm
Frank from Shaolin says:
I'm pretty sure the restaurant isn't doing good because the food is basically made of plastic - not because your not serving meat. Not to mention the service is about as welcoming as the DMV.

Great idea to get more business though ... Do what everyone else is doing and then, running counterpoint, drive away what customer base you did have as I'm sure most vegans will be excited to have their soy chicken fried and breaded in the same bowls and fryer oil as real meat.

Ladies and gentleman there is excellent vegan food out there in this world and it was never at this place to begin with-sorry. Not a huge dissapointment for new York vegetarians.
Dec. 22, 2009, 12:23 am
Kencredile from All City says:
Boycott this piece.
Dec. 22, 2009, 10:53 am
Ed from Bensonhurst says:
Once again the Brooklyn Paper shows an example of what journalism should NOT do...that is make a conclusion based on ONE example. One vegetarian restaurant, owned by a guy who never was veg (I know Jason and he was never a committed veg despite what this article says) and who tried to capitalize on a growing interest in vegetarianism, decides to serve meat and the Brooklyn Paper concludes that vegetarianism is "on life support". Has anyone from The Broolyn Paper ever been in S'nice or V Spot on the weekend and seen how crowded they are? FACT: There were more strictly veg restaurants in Brooklyn in 2009 than ever before in the history of Brooklyn. Does the Brooklyn paper tell you that?..No of course not, that would not fit with their fictitious story line about the suppposed decline of vegetarianism. Red Bamboo had a decline in business in 2009 b/c the whole economy was in a RECESSION. You have to wonder what rock Jason Wong and the Brooklyn Paper staff were living under to not understand that 2009 was a bad economic year for just about everybody.
Dec. 24, 2009, 11:40 pm
Cassie from Prospect Heights says:
I agree with the other posters. This article is very opinionated. Personally, I know a lot more people who have given up meat than vegetarians who have returned to meat. A lot of new veggie restaurants are opening up in the city especially in Manhattan. A lot of "regular" restaurants are also adding vegetarian options.
One of Red Bamboo Brooklyn's problems was location. If it was in a busier area they would get a lot more business. I liked the restaurant but it was out of my way. I only went on special occasions or on my day off. Is the restaurant in Manhattan and VP2 planning to close as well??? NO! Little Lad's is in the basement of a building on Wall Street and it is packed everyday by vegetarians and meat eaters!! They don't use salt, pepper, vinegar, white flour products, sugar or anything artificial in their food. There focus isn't even on faux meat but healthy vegetarian food.
I won't be going to this new Poppa's place. I also won't read any more of Mr. Brown's article.
Jan. 1, 2010, 12:55 pm
JS from Park Slope says:
Honestly, this makes my life easier. Instead of trying to decide if okay food that fits my diet is worth the hassle of a non-attentive staff and a train ride out of my way, the decision has been made. Eric brings up a great point with the "humane slaughtering" issue as well. Humane Slaughter=Impossible.
Jan. 2, 2010, 8:15 pm
BL from Williamsburg says:
Dear Jason Wong,
Customers dropped off because the service at the Fort Greene Red Bamboo was terrible. Just about every time I've been, and it has been several, I've had to wait ridiculous amounts of time for service. The food would arrive cold or barely warm when it finally did come. Each time I thought it would be different... but, it wasn't. I began dreading my trips to your restaurant. I'd rather trek into the city for the Village Red Bamboo than come to Fort Greene. So, if you really want to fix the place, besides opening up the menu to meat, maybe try working on the service.
Jan. 6, 2010, 5:25 pm
Foodeater from Los Angeles says:
"Being a carnivore doesn’t mean you don’t care."

Yes actually, it does.
Jan. 10, 2010, 1:13 am
happy carnivore from park slope says:
good for him! i'm so happy he's finally embracing his delicious meat eating ways. i'll eat there now. GO MEAT!!!! YES!!!! screw you PETA ;)
Jan. 13, 2010, 9:54 pm

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