Vegan queen’s eatery empire has roots in Chelsea

Pamela Elizabeth’s concern for animals led her to become a vegan.   PHOTO BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC

Pamela Elizabeth’s concern for animals led her to become a vegan. PHOTO BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Pamela Elizabeth is one busy restaurateur.

Last month alone, two new vegan restaurants — one fast-food and one an upscale sit-down — opened on the Upper West Side, expanding Elizabeth’s empire that began nine years ago in Chelsea.

Elizabeth and her business partner, Ronen Seri, opened their first vegan eatery, Blossom Restaurant, on Ninth Ave. between W. 21st and W. 22nd Sts., on Oct. 22, 2005.

Elizabeth remembered immediately the month, day and year for her first restaurant and the whirlwind that engulfed her.

“Did we make the right decision? It is going to succeed? Are people really going to love the food?” said Elizabeth in an interview at her latest restaurant, Blossom on Columbus, at 507 Columbus Ave, between W. 84th and W. 85th Sts.

Elizabeth and Seri ran a natural pet and supply store called The Barking Zoo in Chelsea, which they have sold. The Bronx native had been a vegetarian since she was 17 and then turned vegan. Her restaurant business all goes back to her concern about animals. This is similar to playing casino games in Cool Cat Casino sites from here in cool cat casino online sites.

“I just always wanted to do something to help animals or to bring an awareness to people that animals should be noticed and have feelings and should be treated right,” she said. “I thought of opening a very small vegan cafe — you know maybe just two or four tables.”

Growing up, Elizabeth had no ambition to be a business owner. She was interested instead in acting and singing — especially opera, which she still sings. “Othello” is one of her favorite operas.

But, back in 2005, there was such a dearth of options for vegans, especially when it came to high-end choices, and she wanted somehow to fill that void.

She and Seri were scouting for space and happened upon a “For Rent” sign in a window on Ninth Ave., she recalled. At that time, it was an Italian restaurant, but it was dismal inside. The owner lived upstairs.

“But you could see it had potential — it’s just an adorable little intimate townhouse,” she said. “That idea of a little cafe just turned into a restaurant because we found the space.”

Blossom Restaurant opened three months later.

“That was probably the craziest time of my life,” Elizabeth recalled. “I had no idea what I was getting into. The restaurant business has got to be one of the hardest in the world.”

Blossom Restaurant’s menu includes one of Elizabeth’s favorite dishes: port wine seitan with white mushrooms, tempura onion, garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Although Elizabeth doesn’t drink alcohol, she loves the plate. Other customer favorites, she said, are the seitan scaloppini in a white wine, lemon and caper sauce; and the black-eyed pea cake, made with Yukon gold potatoes and black-eyed peas served with a chipotle aioli.

After the success of Blossom Restaurant, Elizabeth and Seri quickly made the move to grow, opening Cafe Blossom two years later on the Upper West Side. It recently closed because of a lease issue.

“It was a thriving business,” Elizabeth said. “Our customers were crying, it was really intense.”

The newly opened Upper West Side location, on Columbus Ave., is not far from that closed restaurant, which was at 466 Columbus Ave.

Next Cocoa V, a vegan chocolate and desert and wine bar, opened in 2009 on Ninth Ave. in Chelsea. But it has since closed.

“I can’t even talk about Cocoa V,” said Elizabeth. “I loved Cocoa V so much. I still dream about that reopening and maybe it will one day.”

Thinking that the Cocoa V space would serve better as a bakery, Elizabeth converted it into Blossom Bakery two years ago. There is a high demand for vegan baked goods, she said. As of now, however, that space is being used to fill wholesale orders and is not open to the public.

“I go back and forth about moving our wholesale production out of that space and reopening as a full-fledged bakery,” she said.

Whole Foods Markets throughout Manhattan — in Chelsea, Union Square and Columbus Circle — carry four of Elizabeth’s items: biscotti, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal harvest cookies.

“They all do very well,” she said. “We want to expand that line of baked goods.”

A frozen vegan pot pie is also in the works and there is talk with Whole Foods of expanding to more stores — and perhaps even taking the products nationally.

“That’s taking things to a whole other level,” said Elizabeth. “That’s very exciting to me because we’re going to be able to reach so many more people.”

Seri and Elizabeth are co-owners of three restaurants, including Blossom on Carmine, at 41 Carmine St., in the West Village, which opened in April 2012.

(Seri owns the vegan bistro V-Note, at 1522 First Ave., at E. 79th St., on the Upper East Side.)

But in 2010, when Elizabeth opened her first quick-service Blossom du Jour (BDJ) in Chelsea also on Ninth Ave., she did it on her own. (It has since moved to W. 23rd St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. Elizabeth wanted a larger, more centralized location.)

Elizabeth has taken the American concept of food in a hurry and made it both healthy and vegan.

“I’ve wanted for a long time to introduce vegan fast food,” she said. “I would look at Hale and Hearty and how they would have sandwiches and soups and salads, and I would think, ‘Why can’t this work with all the food options being vegan?’ Of course, it can.”

A fourth BDJ opened on the Upper West Side on Amsterdam Ave. at W. 81st St. in September, and a fifth location is already on the horizon.

“People want this food on the go — especially in cities,” she said. “They need the grab-and-go.”

The slogan “Shrewd.Fast.Food.” came about because it’s “food for the discerning person,” she explained. “The person who wants to eat better for whatever reason. I don’t want to say anything about what other fast-food companies are doing, but we all know what the food is.”

BDJ offers sandwiches, wraps, salads, desserts, smoothies and juices — all vegan, some also gluten-free. Two of the most popular items, according to Elizabeth, are the Midtown Melt — cajun spicy seitan with vegan cheese, agave, guacamole, lettuce and chipotle aioli — and The Skyscraper, a vegan burger with all the fixings.

Elizabeth said she hopes to have 10 to 12 BDJs in New York City and then expand to college towns, where a lot of young people are vegetarian or, at least, open to the type of cuisine.

At one time, proceeds from Cocoa V went to an animal rescue organization. Now, people who have a Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary card get 15 percent off at any Blossom establishment. Promotions are run at BDJ, where when a particular sandwich is purchased, a dollar will go to the farm. For a three-month promotion during the summer, $2,700 was donated the farm.

Elizabeth lived in Chelsea for 17 years and only recently moved to the Upper West Side.

“It’s probably the most grounded place in New York City. People are really down to earth,” she said of Chelsea, which she still considers her base. “It’s a different energy, and I think that the restaurant has benefited from that.”

But it took a little time for the neighborhood to adjust, she recalled.

“When we first opened, there was a little backlash there,” she recalled. “We’d get the person calling and saying, ‘Oh, can you deliver a steak to my address.’ Crazy stuff like that. It took awhile for people to get used to what we were doing.”

It was a different time then and Elizabeth said she is aware how sensitive the subject of what people eat is.

At Blossom, people are encouraged to fill out comment cards that ask whether they are vegan or vegetarian. Elizabeth said that they have found that 65 to 70 percent of their patrons are not vegans or vegetarians but people who eat meat.

“We’re definitely a destination restaurant since we’re on Ninth Ave. — we’re not on Eighth, we’re not on Seventh, where it’s bustling,” she noted.

The landscape has changed since the first Blossom Restaurant opened. Today there are many more vegan offerings.

“Everyone recognizes the word ‘vegan’ today,” Elizabeth said. “They might not be vegan, but they know what that word means. That’s a tremendous step forward.”

She attributes some of her success to the trend toward healthy eating and the team that she works with. She also credits her passion for what she does.

“It just means the world to me to put this kind of food out there,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to try to move forward — that’s a big thing. You have to take risks.”

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