Ravi DeRossi is about to go all-in with veganism. The restaurateur behind Avant Garden and Death and Co. has been thinking about environmental waste and factory farming, and now, he wants to put his money where his mouth is. DeRossi plans to make as many of his 15 bars and restaurants animal-free as possible — starting with tiki bar Mother of Pearl, which will be eliminating all animal products on February 14.
DeRossi started off in the cocktail bar business about 11 years ago, first opening The Bourgeois Pig, a bar and restaurant that serves cheese plates, fondue, and charcuterie. It remains one of his most successful projects, but it's the next business he's turning animal-free. In the summer, he's reopening it as a vegan wine and tapas bar called LadyBird as part of his vegan transformation. From there, he's going big with his hit vegan restaurant Avant Garden, expanding it into several different concepts in Williamsburg in the fall and winter.
DeRossi feels strongly about the environmental impact of meat and restaurants, as well as the impact to animals, he says. Taking animal products out of his businesses is his way of helping. "If we're going to do something to help this planet, it needs to start," DeRossi tells Eater. "It needs to be me not just preaching, but me just doing it. I'm in the position to do it."
"I’ve been such a strain on society for 40 years now, it’s time for me to be more productive."
Veganism isn't a new practice for DeRossi. He was a vegetarian and then vegan for years before falling into the hospitality industry, where he got "sucked into" eating and drinking everything, he says. DeRossi returned to a mostly vegan diet a while ago, with the exception of tasting items that go on his restaurant's menus for quality control. Besides opening Avant Garden last year, he also kicked off a nonprofit against animal cruelty called BEAST.
But a new fervor overtook DeRossi last Christmas, when his cat Simon was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The restaurateur retreated to spend time with his pet, ultimately spending weeks contemplating life. DeRossi decided it was time to follow-through on his goal of doing more vegan projects.
"You don't realize that the average restaurateur does three times more destruction [to the environment] than the average person," DeRossi says. "I have 15 restaurants and bars. It started to weigh on me." He's ready to start having a vegan-only empire. Here's a rundown of how he plans to do it:
1) Mother of Pearl will be first, with a new vegan menu from Daphne Cheng, the chef behind pop-up dinners at Exhibit C. She'll be serving a menu of Polynesian-inspired dishes, like coconut rolls with coconut miso butter and black lava salt; and green mango with tomato, jicama, crispy rice, and macadamia. Bartender Jane Danger will stay on and recreate the tiki cocktail menu to get rid of any spirits that use animal products. Non-alcoholic cold-pressed juice cocktails will also be offered. Here's a look at the menu:
2) In May, The Bourgeois Pig will close and reopen about a month later as LadyBird. He's been considering the project for years and even talked of opening it in Carroll Gardens in 2013. Cheng and Avant Garden chef Alex Aparicio will likely be collaborating on the new vegan tapas menu, DeRossi says, though he's always meeting new vegan chefs who may play a role. Even though The Bourgeois Pig is his first — and possibly most successful — restaurant, he's not sentimental over the change. "I'm bored with it," he says. "It's cheese. We sell thousands and thousands of pounds of cheese."
3) Perhaps most ambitiously, Avant Garden will be expanding into a massive four-way project in a new building on Manhattan Avenue near McCarren Park in Williamsburg with a to-be-announced address, DeRossi says.
One space in the building will become an Avant Garden bistro, a casual restaurant with cocktails and lower price points than the current Avant Garden. Another space will house an Avant Garden tasting table, with a six-seat chef's counter and dishes made from vegetables that will be grown on a planned rooftop garden of the building. It will be more upscale and host two seatings at dinner every day. A third space will contain a vegan butcher, selling a vegan cheeses, meats, salads, and sandwiches that's open all day. They will open in the fall, at the earliest.
And in the basement of the building, DeRossi plans to build a huge commissary kitchen as a base for a new casual concept called Avant Garden and Club, a vegan sandwich shop that will have several locations in the city.
DeRossi says he feels better about this decision than anything else he's ever done. He's not worried about losing business from dumping animal products, he adds. "I'm more worried about my conscious and living without the weight on my shoulder of the damage I'm doing, and the suffering of animals," DeRossi says. Eventually, he wants to only be a part of vegan concepts, even if it means lower sales. "I’ve been such a strain on society for 40 years now," he says. "It’s time for me to be more productive."