Founders of vegan restaurant Café Gratitude face death threats for eating meat

By Christina Campodonico

Vegan activist Lola Korneevets protests outside Café Gratitude on Rose Avenue

Vegan activist Lola Korneevets protests outside Café Gratitude
on Rose Avenue

The founders of a popular vegan restaurant in Venice say they are facing death threats after announcing that they now eat meat.

The “100% organic plant-based restaurant chain” Café Gratitude has been at the center of a media firestorm since a February 2015 blog post by owners Terces and Matthew Engelhart recently spread online.

The couple, who had been vegetarians for 40 years, wrote about eating beef from a cow raised on their private farm in Northern California. They started receiving death threats in April after animal rights activists started circulating the post, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Local vegans have picketed outside the Café Gratitude location on Rose Avenue twice in the past two weeks, each involving about a dozen protesters.

“A lot of vegans go to this ‘vegan restaurant’ thinking that they’re supporting a business that aligns with their ethics. For [the Engelharts] to be promoting that behavior … it’s hypocritical,” said Chase Avior, who organized an April 30 demonstration.

But the Engelharts’ PR rep Diana Hossfeld says that Be Love Farm is the couple’s home — a private entity that does not supply food to Café Gratitude or sister vegan restaurant chain Gracias Madre, save for an occasional surplus of peaches or butternut squash. She also said the farm ascribes to the Engelharts’ “no waste philosophy” of farming and regenerative agriculture, which aims to restore soil health by mimicking the natural processes of nature.

“The cows being raised on the farm aren’t being raised [specifically] for consumption. They are there as part of the sustainable farm,” Hossfeld told The Argonaut. As for the Engelharts, she said, “It’s not like they’re eating burgers daily.”

Lola Korneevets, who along with Sarah Jane Hardt co-organized a May 7 demonstration outside the Rose Avenue location, said the Engelharts “have betrayed the vegan community, which had supported them over the years under the impression that we were helping a vegan business thrive.”

Others are standing by the Engelharts.

Rainbeau Mars, a family friend and author of “The 21-Day SuperStar Cleanse,” said the vegan community’s
ire is counterproductive to the plant-based food movement, in which the Engelharts’ restaurants continue to play
a leading role.

Mars is also on the board of the Venice-based soil regeneration advocacy nonprofit Kiss the Ground, cofounded by Matthew Engelhart’s son and Café Gratitude co-owner Ryland Engelhart.

“We get our groceries somewhere, maybe Whole Foods or the Co-op, but you don’t know if the CEOs eat meat. It would be weird if you stopped supporting someone because they did. The real problem isn’t eating meat, but the psychology of anger,” Mars told The Argonaut. “If you don’t want harm on the planet, then why are you being harmful and why are you choosing to harm and attack?”