Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tree Hugger's, Oberlin...Don't Bother

I really don't like to criticize "vegan" businesses - they are a struggling species in Ohio.  But keeping quiet about subpar food and/or subpar service is not going to further the cause.

So, that brings me to Tree Hugger's Cafe.  I have been known to sing the praises of the original Berea, OH location, but that stops now; for a couple of reasons.

1. High, untrained, staff turnover - I have severe food allergies, that's why I'm vegan, I make this very much known before ordering in any restaurant.  But I have been served dairy several times by staff that didn't know and didn't ask how the food was being prepared.  And depending on what day you ask, you get a different answer at this place.

2. Vegan & non-vegan community is turned off - for years I assumed it was just me and my guests that were annoyed with the service, but the more I talk to people, the more I learn that many, many are not happy with the downturn of Tree Hugger's over the past years.

3. They don't care - I have and others have spoken to the owner and management with zero response, zero action and zero correction.  I guess they feel they are doing pretty well and don't have to answer to customer dissatisfaction.  Good luck with that.

And this brings me to the Cafe's newer Oberlin, OH location.  Frankly, I have been avoiding this place like the plague since it opened a year or more ago; in fact I have been avoiding Tree Hugger's all together after several disappointing experiences.  But, my mother has had her heart set on going (she's not vegan) and wanted to check out Oberlin.  Ok, for her I conceded and we made the 45-minute haul to Oberlin for my birthday dinner.

As we walk in the door, it doesn't start off well.  No hello, no smile, not even a simple acknowledgement from the 2-person staff and it was really, really hard not to tell we were there, given the rush of their three customers (all eating) and the fact that the place is the size of a closet.  But size, doesn't matter, so we stood around waiting to be seated before finally realizing, it was a seat yourself kind of joint.  Menus in hand and we quickly determine that this is no full-size Tree Hugger's.  The menu is about half, if that, of the Berea location.  Ok, not giving up hope yet...  My bf goes to the bathroom, promptly returns and states that he doesn't want to eat there.  Well, years of me telling him that the bathroom is a clear indicator of the cleanliness and quality of staff must have paid off.  He was ready to bolt.  My mother went to the counter and asked a few questions and promptly returned and said she didn't want to eat there.  Since I was still pissed off of the lack of welcome, I said giddy up!  Now mind you, I was starving, we drove 45-minutes to get there and Oberlin is a tiny, tiny town and the odds of getting anything vegan were slim.

Thanks to my Happy Cow app, we landed around the corner at the Black River Cafe.  Not a vegan restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, but they did have a few things that could be turned vegan, plus a waitress who knew exactly how the food was prepared.  Confidence in your server is priceless when it comes to food allergies; Tree Hugger's has lost my confidence.  Anyway, we enjoyed a Beet Salad, minus the goat cheese, a Margarita Pizza, minus the cheese and the one pure vegan offering - Quinoa Stuffed Peppers.  All pretty good given the circumstances.

So, why the sudden change in my lack of support?  Well, I've been silently discontented for awhile, but after my recent visit to Santa Monica, CA - where vegan businesses get it and take veganism very seriously, I'm not willing to settle anymore and my silence isn't helping any of these places get their shit together, in fact, just the opposite. 

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