More Vegans, More Choices on Long Island

By Rafael Fonseca Cruvinel and Darlene Ferreira

Irene Rodriguez, who dedicated years of her life to homeschooling her children, never thought she would have her own business, but when opportunity knocked, she decided to just “go for it.”

At the time when restaurants were starting to reopen post-Covid, Rodriguez created Veg on Board, a business focused on vegan catering and creating vegan charcuterie boards.

“I’ve always loved cooking and baking,” she said.

Rodriguez, of Centereach, works from the Stony Brook Incubator in Calverton. The 47-year-old became vegan six years ago and she noticed that there were few options that met her lifestyle. Like many vegans, when she would go out to eat, she had to be creative and modify the restaurants’ dishes.

She said there’s a huge vegan community on Long Island, but not as many alternatives as in New York City. Rodriguez wanted to do something different and, as she noticed that charcuterie was getting popular, she figured it would be a good idea for a vegan business.

“I said, you know what? We need a vegan version of this because we like those things too,” she said.

Numbers show that veganism is a growing movement. According to a report from Research and Markets, the vegan market is currently valued around $40.1 billion and estimated to be valued at $91.9 billion by 2027. Moreover, the number of vegans in the United States grew from 0.4% to nearly 3.5% in the last two years, according to the report. In this context, the necessity for vegan restaurants and vegan meal options in non-vegan restaurants is increasing.

To create Veg on Board, Rodriguez combined her vegan lifestyle with her passion for creating art. She said since she was a child in school, she liked art class and used to “get mad” that it only lasted 30 minutes. As an adult, she explored her creativity in the kitchen, cooking traditional Puerto Rican food, which she grew up eating, baking her children’s birthday cakes, and trying to make her boards look like gardens.

“When I became vegan, it was like a whole new world trying to veganize these items,” she said.

Being Puerto Rican, a lot of the traditional dishes were not vegan. She mixed her culture with her business, creating an option of a Puerto Rican version of a charcuterie board. Her “Puerto-Vegan” board includes typical Puerto Rican foods such as guava paste with vegan cheese and crackers and her own version of coquito dip.

“I do have a little Puerto Rican version of my own board,” she said.

The vegan scene is changing not only because of new restaurants, but also because of veteran vegans who were able to maintain themselves in the market in the long run.

“The food industry is not an easy one to be in,” said Matt Kosrky, owner of Green Street Food Truck.

Korsky transitioned to a plant-based diet in 2013 after reading about how it would benefit him in his training for a triathlon.

“Every aspect of my life improved in every way possible, and it changed the way I looked at nutrition and the world around me,” he said.

A high school teacher at the time, Korsky decided to change career paths in 2018 and pursue his passion for cooking and educating others on veganism. After two failed attempts to partner with other vegan businesses, Korsky decided to follow a new idea: a vegan food truck. Food trucks were becoming popular on Long Island at the time and allowed him to have a flexible schedule that would work for him, his wife, and three kids.

“I just took out all of my life savings, all of our kids college funds savings, my wife took out a bunch of money from her savings account and we just threw it all into this food truck idea with no business experience, no culinary experience, just my own intuition that this was the right way to go,” he said.

As a food truck, Green Street serves fresh, made by scratch, plant-based and gluten-free options. Its most popular food items include its soul bowls, grilled mac and cheese sandwich, and oatmeal “whookie” pie. Today, Korsky also owns a restaurant, the Green Street Eatery in Levittown, which serves vegan brunch, private events, and specials.

In his vision the current vegan scene on Long Island is in a standstill because, usually, when one place closes, another one opens. He emphasized that there’s still room for more vegan options on the Island, especially in Suffolk.

“When you go out to Suffolk County, it becomes a little trickier,” he said.

The limited number of vegan options in Suffolk is also one of the reasons why Rodriguez created her business.

“I’m in Suffolk and I wanted to be able to provide that for people out here,” she said.

Rodriguez said that we will see more places popping up in the future since people are becoming more conscious of their diets. Korsky urged both vegans and nonvegans to “go out and explore.”

“The businesses that use the most support are the small family owned ones, that spend more time in the kitchen and more time creating an actual meal that they have more love [for],” Korsky said.

📷  Courtesy Irene Rodriguez.

Rafael Fonseca Cruvinel and Darlene Ferreira are reporters with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media. 

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