May 18, 2022

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Vegan Chef From SF’s Baia, a Former Boyfriend and Business Partner of ‘Bad Vegan’ Sarma Melngailis, Says She Deserves Second Chance

If you watched the Netflix sequence Undesirable Vegan, you may have found a chef’s title that must be common in SF vegan circles — Matthew Kenney, who is the superstar chef powering SF’s two-12 months-old vegan Italian cafe Baia.

Kenney, who’s much more properly recognized all around Los Angeles and New York than in San Francisco, has in the very last two a long time crafted a significant empire of plant-centered eating places all around the globe — quite a few in accommodations, and such as the Sestina Pasta Bar and Double Zero pizza chains. But early in his career, Kenney opened two New York dining places with then-girlfriend Sarma Melngailis, the shorter-lived Commissary (2001-2003), adopted by Pure Meals & Wine in 2004. The latter grew to become a media darling and a favorite hangout of vegan celebrities like Alec Baldwin, and Melngailis and Kenney co-authored a cookbook in 2005 titled Uncooked Meals/serious entire world.

Pure Foodstuff & Wine is the cafe at the center of Poor Vegan, and was the supply of the embezzlement and fraud scheme for which Melngailis and her gambling-addict ex-partner Anthony Strangis have been convicted in 2016. Strangis did not enter the image until finally about 2011, and Kenney had extensive since still left the cafe — pushed out by trader Jeffrey Chodorow, who stated he experienced more religion in Melngailis’s business acumen when she and Kenney mentioned they could no longer perform alongside one another soon after breaking up in 2009.

These days, Melngailis has shed her vocation in the meals globe, and as she suggests in the documentary, she will not be expecting anybody would at any time want to invest in a venture by her after the revelations about the fraud scheme. But Kenney has remained in her corner, and as TMZ reviews, he reported via a rep that he wishes Sarma the best, he thinks in next prospects, and if she desires to open up another cafe she should really do it.

Obviously, he would not seem like he is operating to back again her in any economical way, though. (Baia continues to be open up and ostensibly a accomplishment, in the previous Jardiniere space in Hayes Valley.)

In addition to bilking buyers, Chodorow incorporated, Melngailis and Strangis screwed a bunch of personnel out of paychecks, and ultimately their jobs, at what was a profitable and well-known Manhattan restaurant. The documentary led to a good total of Twitter chatter about Melngailis probably enjoying up her victimhood, when her innocence in the complete scheme is just not so minimize and dry.

Also, some oddly helpful-sounding phone phone calls between Melngailis and Strangis following their arrests elevated lots of eyebrows.

Melngailis has identified as the Netflix documentary, specially the ending, “disturbingly deceptive,” but she explained she was even so grateful for “the protection” of her story, and what she states is a situation of coercive control on the part of Strangis. (The tale of their 2016 arrest blew up in New York media for the reason that, soon after a yr on the run, they turned up in motel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee buying Domino’s pizza and wings —which was seemingly all for Strangis, but hence the “negative vegan” moniker.)

Melngailis hinted on social media that there will be a “upcoming installment coming quickly.”

And she manufactured crystal clear just after her 2018 release from Rikers Island that she hopes to revive her One particular Fortunate Duck manufacturer, and possibly Pure Food & Wine by itself.

“If you convey to me to open a food stuff truck, I’ll want to punch you in the confront. (Sorry),” she wrote on her weblog. “I want the significant brand name again, the cafe back. Not for me, but so they exist once more, for all those who liked them and individuals to come who would.”

She has implied on her weblog that she maintains some supply of perform and revenue, nevertheless it really is unclear what that is. This thirty day period, just after the launch of the doc, she preferred to make very clear that she had not financially benefited from the Netflix display. She agreed to have Netflix, having said that, pay to compensate the previous staff members of her cafe who ended up nonetheless owed again pay out. “Of all the hurt and the numerous money owed resulting from my downfall, this portion weighed heaviest,” Melngailis writes.

Leading image: Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, then the proprietors of Pure Food items & Wine in New York, at a e-book get together for their uncooked foods cookbook on July 17, 2005. Picture by Theo Wargo/WireImage by means of Getty Images