There are 47 specialized vegan/ vegetarian restaurants in the New York City Metro Area alone, according to SuperVegan, a vegan blog, directory and restaurant guide. In the small college town of Bowling Green, Ohio, there is only one.
“It’s definitely more difficult [to function in the business economy], but the economy hasn’t affected everybody,” said Heather Andre, owner of Squeaker’s vegan cafe and health food store. “We’re still doing okay, but we have seen lower sales. This year, in the past few months, sales are down.”
Vegan businesses have their fair share of hardships, but when you add a small town location to the mix, it is difficult to stay afloat and make a profit.
College kids, wealthy..two things you never find in the same sentence
Andre further explained the importance of price competition to keep college students interested in buying vegan products, like vitamins, which are currently all 25 percent lower than the original price.
“Generally in a college town you have to be very price-competitive, so I can’t have prices like they would have in New York City. College students in general don’t have a lot of money, so if I want to attract them, we definitely have to keep our prices down.”
With lower prices, the options for improvement become limited.
“It [price cuts] definitely affects how I run the business, because with less money there are fewer improvements that would be made that are needed right now that I can’t make because I don’t have the income coming in.”
Despite Andre’s desire to make improvements, Lia Ricci-Sons, owner of Asherah’s Garden, a holistic health and education center located in the space joined to Squeaker’s, sees the importance of being vegan in a healthy lifestyle and the necessity of Squeaker’s business.
Ricci-Sons said, “[Being vegan] is a part of holistic health, and we have a wonderful, symbiotic relationship with Squeaker’s.”
Samantha Fletcher, three year Squeaker’s employee, plans to raise her child to be vegan. She is due in three weeks, and before she runs out the door to stock up on carrots and avocados, she said her favorite items to make are smoothies, but she loves to bake too.
Two questions about market trends and new vegan businesses
- Do you think there is more of a market for vegan products, because more people are becoming interested in a diet that lines up with vegetarian vegan?
“It seems with the change in the economy there is less interest, actually, because people see this food as being more expensive, but it’s really not,” Andre said. “You know how everyone is focusing on going green and recycling. Going vegan is the biggest thing, most important thing you could do for the environment, but changing your diet is a difficult thing for most people.”
- Do you have any recommendations for up and coming vegan businesses?
“I wouldn’t recommend [starting] it at this time, in this economy,” Andre said. “It would be a struggle. In this part of the country it still hasn’t caught on as well as the West Coast, like California or in certain areas of the country where there are vegetarian restaurants everywhere
Fresh ideas and improvement
Squeaker’s will have a new owner in the near future. Right now there is nothing final, but Andre has a buyer that she hopes will keep to the vegan standards of Squeakers.
“There’s always room for improvement,” she said. “The store has a lot of potential. That’s what I”m hoping, for a new person to come in and take over with fresh ideas.”
Hiring new employees is fundamental for any business, and Squeakers is no different.
Until the new owner takes over, Andre is looking for a dedicated vegan employee to work 20 to 30 hours per week preparing vegan food and selling vegan products. Contact Heather Andre at (419) 354-7000 for more information.