Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita is now a vegan-friendly city thanks to an explosion of new food businesses

Wichita has had its share of vegan and vegetarian restaurants over the years, but none of them seemed to last.

The faithfuls would flock to places like Garden Grill, which operated at Occidental Plaza from 2012 until 2015, or Zen Vegetarian Cuisine, which opened in March 2009 but added meat back to the menu by 2011.

But over the past several years, the vegan and vegan-curious communities have been growing in Wichita and so have their options for dining out, thanks in no small part to the advent of food trucks.

Starting with Kind Kravings, which opened in 2015, vegan food has become easier to find in Wichita, and the scene has really grown recently. Since last year, Wichita has added three new mobile vegan eateries — Wheat Street Dogs, Nora’s Kitchen and La Semilla Mexcian Grill — and it’s about to get more.

There are so many vegan businesses these days that recently, a successful Vegan Pop-Up Market was staged at the ICT Pop-Up Urban Park downtown at 121 E. Douglas. The event drew around 500 people, and food ran out quickly. The market’s organizer, local vegan and animal rights activist Dianne Waltner, said she’s hoping to put on another market in the fall, and her eventual goal is to throw a big “Veg Fest” in Wichita, similar to events put on in Tulsa and Kansas City.

Kind Kravings owners Rochelle Collins and Shea West, who helped start the most recent Wichita vegan trend when they began serving their “vegan comfort food” out of their spray-paint decorated vintage trailer four years ago, said they’re actually grateful for their new competition.

“It’s cool to see the times changing now and more options available,” Collins said. “I took on that pressure because there was a need for it, but I would also like to not feel so pressured anymore to be that only option here. We want that growth. We want to push for that.”

They also want somewhere to eat where they don’t have to do the cooking, they said with a laugh, and they’ve been impressed with what new vegan businesses have been serving.

Collins said the food truck trend gives young entrepreneurs like herself a way to start a business without having so much overhead. Veganism is catching on not just among people who choose it for health reasons but also among those who are concerned about the environment and the negative effects of animal agriculture.

The majority of Kind Kravings’ customers, she said, aren’t even vegan.

“A lot of that has to do with the way the times are changing and the problems we’re facing on this planet right now,” Collins said. “A lot of people feel they can make a huge impact through all their lifestyle choices, and this seems to be a really good one.”

Collins and West, who for a while were known for the double-decker bus they operated out of, just debuted their new rig last weekend. It’s set up in a converted green trolley car they purchased in Michigan, and it’s a lot easier to get around town than the bus was.

Here’s a look at some of the newer mobile vegan eateries that have popped up over the past several years as well as some of Wichita’s most vegan-friendly brick-and-mortar restaurants.

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Vegan food truck Kind Kravings has made its new home in this converted trolly bus. Courtesy photo

New vegan options in Wichita

Kind Kravings, food truck: This truck, which just got its new trolley car on the road, specializes in vegan comfort food and is known for its roasted cauliflower tacos and its “sinnamon roll“ pancakes. The truck will be parked at the ICT Pop-Up Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

Wheat Street Dogs: Pat Handley, a longtime vegan, last spring opened this hot dog cart specializing in vegan hot dogs made using wheat gluten and soy. Since then, he’s been everywhere and is a frequent presence at the ICT Pop-Up Urban Park. He offers several varieties, including a ball park hot dog topped with mustard, ketchup, onions, jalapenos, sweet relish and kraut, and a bahn mi dog, topped with pickled daikon and carrots, Sriracha mayo, hoisin, cucumber, jalapeno slices and cilantro.

Nora’s Kitchen is serving a menu of plant-based items like this veggie burger. Courtesy photo

Nora’s Kitchen: Matthew and Tori Newby launched their vegan food truck last August, named after the daughter they lost during child birth. The truck has been a hit since opening and serves big colorful plates with entrees like a pulled barbecue sandwich made with jackfruit and smoked mushrooms in place of meat, a black bean burger and a tofu sandwich. Nora’s will be at Tunes + Tallgrass at the Wichita Art Museum on Friday evening.

La Semilla Mexican Grill: Frankie Cordova opened this vegan food stand this summer at the Mercadito Hispano Nomar, which happens from 3 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays at the NoMar International Market, 21st and Broadway. She specializes in vegan al pastor tacos made with a soy-based meat, homemade gorditas, and elote on a stick. She and her girlfriend, Yvette Tovar, are making their own tortillas and gordita shells, and they sell fresh Mexican waters, too.

Consuelo’s Street Grill: Regina Campos opened this food truck last year and briefly included meat on her menu. But she has recently decided to take the truck in a new direction and offer a strictly “plant-based” menu. She will reopen it soon with its new identity.

Although her dishes use no animal products, she does use honey, so she’s not considered strictly vegan. She plans to set up at farmers markets around town, including the Old Town Farmers’ Market and the Firefly Farms Farmers Market. Her menu will always change based on availability at the farmers markets but she will serve things like nachos made with grain free chips and chorizo made from quinoa and mushrooms. She’ll also serve chia pudding and have kombucha on tap.

Wheat Street Dogs is a vegan hot dog stand that’s been opening in Wichita for a little more than a year. Courtesy photo

Nice Bites Bakery: Sarah Hammond opened this vegan bakery three years ago with her daughter, Morgan Mazur, a vegan chef who has since moved out of state. But Hammond found there was such a demand for vegan baked goods that she kept the business going. She now bakes out of a commercial kitchen and supplies baked goods to places like Sunflower Espresso, Common Grounds, Il Primo Espresso Cafe, Songbird Juice Company and Perfect Plate. She also sets up on Saturdays at the Old Town Farmers’ Market. Hammond is known for her vegan cinnamon rolls and said that in addition to vegans and vegan-curious diners, she also has many customers who are looking for dairy-free and gluten-free baked goods.

Garden Grill: Though the Garden Grill restaurant closed in 2015, the restaurant’s sous chef Nick Stroot took over the business and kept it running as a vegan meal delivery service and catering business. He set up a booth at the recent Vegan Pop-Up Market and sold some of his popular dishes. His website is https://www.gardengrillmenu.com/

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La Semilla is a new business in Wichita is serving vegan Mexican food. Courtesy photo

Restaurants where vegans go

Though Wichita doesn’t have a dedicated vegan restaurant, the vegan community has a list of favorite local restaurants that have vegan menus or an extensive list of vegan offerings. Here are some of their favorites:

Lotus Leaf Cafe, 251 N. Washington: This Old Town cafe has meat on the menu but it has many vegan and vegetarian offerings, including its famous sweet potato chips and vegan tacos, crepes and pasta dishes.

Beautiful Day Cafe, 2516 E. Central: This cozy cafe offers lots of vegan breakfast and lunch items as well as vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Its menu includes a vegan sandwich, a veggie burger and more.

Passage to India, 6100 E. 21st St. North: This Indian restaurant has a separate menu just for for vegans with items like vegetable samosa, lentil soup, vegetable coconut curry and more.

Meddys: This Mediterranean restaurant chain has a separate menu for its vegan and gluten-free customers.

Milkfloat, 535 W. Douglas: This local bakery has one of the longest-running vegan menus in town and often has items like vegan cheesecakes, galettes and dark chocolate Rice Krispies treats.

Reverie Coffee Roasters/ Founders Bakery, 2202 E. Douglas: This shop has started offering vegan baked goods on Saturdays. Options include things like vegan pop tarts, oatmeal cream pies, cupcakes PB&J bars and more.

Thai Tradition, 650 N. Carriage Parkway: This Thai restaurant also has lots of options for vegans.

Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, 1725 E. Douglas: Tanya’s has always included a daily vegan option on its rotating soup menu.

R Coffee House, 1144 N. Bitting: This restaurant and coffee house offers vegan dishes every Wednesday. On a recent Wednesday, it served up gudeg, which is braised jackfruit with lemongrass and spices.

Oh Yeah China Bistro, 3101 N. Rock Road: When it added meat back to the menu, Zen became Oh Yeah China Bistro, and that restaurant still boasts a large number of vegan dishes.