Restauranting is not the easiest thing when you're a vegan. Honestly, when it comes to my daily life I often forget that I'm "different". Veganism is just life in our house. It's only when I venture out of my house that I realize I'm a dietary minority and that my choices are strange to many other people.
We had dinner plans with some wonderful friends of ours on Friday night, and Jack Astor's was selected as the place. I looked through the online menu and learned that (like pretty much every other family restaurant) a garden salad and nachos-sans-cheese are pretty much the extent of vegan-friendly choices on the menu. I did see a couple of noodle dishes, so I called ahead to see if they were okay.
Unfortunately, they all had fish sauce in them, but the person I spoke to over the phone was VERY helpful and welcoming. He said he wanted to look at the menu more thoroughly, so he took my email address and sent me a message later in the afternoon, with dishes that were close to vegan-friendly and thus could be made vegan-friendly with a few minor substitutions. He even included a rice stir fry option that is not on the regular menu, but could be made with relative ease with items they have stocked in their kitchen.
While I don't think it is appropriate to apologize for being vegan, I do understand the difficulty many restaurants (chain or otherwise) have with accommodating us and so I expressed regret if I was causing him or his staff any extensive inconvenience. I received this email in return:
You do not need to worry about calling ahead, just ask the server for a vegetable stirfry with the appropriate modifications and it won't be an issue. It is not an inconvenience at all, and by no means is it difficult to figure out some suitable menu options for you, its actually quite fun digging deep into the ingredient list of every product (for a kitchen manager at least!)! Look forward to your visit tomorrow, thanks for emailing ahead!
And you know, his friendliness and welcoming attitude made my day.
So, we went on Friday night and I mentioned to the waitress that I had spoken to the kitchen manager and that he had said a veggie stir fry would not be problematic for the kitchen staff. She was very courteous as well, and returned to the table to clarify that the teriyaki sauce they use is suitable for vegans (it was!) rather than just using it.
As vegans, we often talk about the horrible restaurant experiences we have and so I thought it very important to share this success story. The eyerolls, the "what...you don't eat what?" comments are unfortunately more the rule than the exception. As a rule, I always call ahead when heading to a restaurant I am not uber familiar with, and I typically get the "Well, there's salad...". The Jack Astor's Kitchener location was the first to not only take the time to go through their menu in a detailed way, but they also went as far as offering something that is not a standard item on their menu to ensure that I felt comfortable.
And because restaurants themselves often only hear complaints, I fired off an email to the Jack Astor's head office, thanking them for their enthusiasm in accommodating me. I hope that they will consider including some vegan options as permanent menu items (the teriyaki dish is a great candidate!) but in the meantime I just wanted to reiterate how much I appreciated their hospitality. I can't guarantee this kind of treatment at all Jack Astor's locations, but I can confirm that the Kitchener location rose to the occassion and made sure I was comfortable and able to enjoy dinner with my friends. And so, I am giving the Kitchener, Ontario location of Jack Astor's the This is Vegan Seal of Approval with hopes that they will continue this positive attitude toward vegans and consider expanding their menu to provide more vegetable-based animal-free options.
Jack Astor's Bar & Grill
509 Wilson Ave
Kitchener, ON N2C 2M4