Lunch time at Petit Brot in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona. / Petit Brot Lunch time at Petit Brot in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona. / Petit Brot

Vegan Restaurants Move From the Fringe to the Spotlight

In complete contrast to the Europe’s culinary reputation for heavy sauces, baked dishes, and savory meats, a growing collection of 100-percent raw plant-based restaurants are opening across Europe. With a focus on serving organic, local cuisine to an evolving consumer palate and mindset, these restaurants are out to prove that micro-greens and artisanal nut cheese are more than just a trend.

One such eatery is Petit Brot which is bringing raw vegan cuisine to Barcelona. Petit Brot (translates to ‘little sprout’ in Catalan) was opened in 2015 by first-time restaurant owners and entrepreneurs who were determined to introduce living food to the city’s international audience. Owners Laura Albors Moncho and Ales Tvrdy refer to their eco-designed shop as a startup and learned step by step the economics and logistics of sourcing just-harvested vegetables, finding and training staff, and making peace with minimal margins in an effort to make their meals accessible to as many as possible.

Petit Brot also serves as the perfect lens to look at the larger dining trends that make these particular businesses possible.

A raw vegan, or living foods, approach to dining out requires not only requires a very set of different kitchen tools, swapping stoves and steamers for juicers and dehydrators, but also a dedication to sourcing the freshest organic produce, organizing in-house production of sprouts, micro-greens, raw granola and crackers, and producing each element to be served in its most nutritious state.

“The biggest challenges of running a raw vegan kitchen is the organizing and planning to soak, sprout, grow in order to have it exactly in its nutritional peak exactly when you need it,” explains Tvrdy.

Using local organic produce is not only an ethical, or trend-driven, decision. It ensures that the produce arrives fresh within 24 hours of harvest and minimal transport. Petit Brot’s produce comes primarily from Cataluña and occasionally other parts of Spain.

“We personally know many of our suppliers. We visit their farms or the place where they produce and ask all kinds of questions related to the growing — how they do it, why they do it, what they use or don’t use, and about maintaining and processing of their produce. All of this is in order to get the best produce for people to consume. We found in-person contact crucial to know who you buy from and if they do their job well,” explains Albors.

The restaurant receives fresh produce up to four times a week, but it’s not the frequency of delivery but time between harvest and plate that makes the biggest difference. The standard at Petit Brot is vegetables are harvest one or two days maximum before being served.

“It’s not important if you receive the produce one or five times a day — what matters is where it comes from, when it was picked, and how it was delivered to you and treated,” says Tvrdy.

Growing Trends

Petit Brot’s philosophy and operation touches upon the most popular trends in the restaurant industry today. The National Restaurant Association’s 2017 survey of 1,300 professional chefs found the hottest culinary trends for next year include hyper-local sourcing, natural ingredients, environmental sustainability, locally sourced produce and veggie-centric cuisine.

“Menu trends today are beginning to shift from ingredient-based items to concept-based ideas, mirroring how consumers tend to adapt their activities to their overall lifestyle philosophies,” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president at the National Restaurant Association says about the survey.

When it comes to concepts, it’s not just the produce that they receive, but also how they prepare it.

“We think it’s important to mention that we grow our own sprouts and micro-greens. Everything we use here is artisanal and completely made from scratch,” explains Albors.

Concepts such as micro-greens, artisanal goods and living food are commonplace at Petit Brot — but also gaining traction in mainstream dining.

A New York Times article published earlier this year titled “The Hippies Have Won” chronicled the shift in the dining industry towards healthier, haute cuisine and tracks the increase in vegetable-first restaurants across America.

One such example is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new vegetarian restaurant in New York. When Skift Table spoke to Vongerichten about abcV this summer, he said, “With vegan, if you think about it, there’s millions of varieties of plants, vegetables and herbs. In a steak restaurant, the variety is very small. There are five meats. A few shellfish. It’s very limited. With plants and vegetables, the sky is the limit.”

There’s evidence this trend is expanding beyond the U.S. and Europe to sophisticated dining markets worldwide. For example, the number of vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong nearly doubled from 130 to 250 between 2013 and 2017, according to Bloomberg.

Skift Table also looked at how consumers’ evolving tastes impact every category within the restaurant industry. Not only are more vegetable-first, locally sourced restaurants opening, but even fast food giants are changing decades-old operations to introduce fresher food to meet client demand.

Some view consumers’ desire for more local, organic produce, served in its more natural state as a reaction to our overly digitalized lives. There’s nothing more real than a plate of fresh greens so it is somewhat ironic how social media is the number one communication tool for marketing, engaging in, and perpetuating a healthy lifestyle.

Restaurants like Petit Brot tap into that desire by engaging their customers outside of mealtime. For example, the restaurant posts photos of its daily menu to encourage a visit.

Petit Brot represents the epitome of consumers’ growing desire for fresh, organic vegetable-first cuisine. Its owners, however, don’t perceives these themes as trends, but part of an evolution that is just beginning.

“Without a shadow of doubt, we think as people get more conscious about healthier living and learn about more sustainable ways of living and being, there will naturally be more demand for more ethically produced food,” says Tvrdy.

“We’re sure there are going to be more places like ours.”

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