The Chickpea food truck has been a big hit with Vancouverites, who have been lining up for its Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian food since it opened for business in 2016. Now, owners Rotem Tal and Itamar Shani have opened a restaurant on on Main Street that’s attracting diners with its popular plant-based comfort food. VHS asked Rotem and Tal about their new venture and about their thoughts on plant-based dining in Vancouver.
The Chickpea food truck has obviously been popular and successful. What made you decide to open a restaurant?
Having a brick and mortar shop was always our dream. We decided to start with a food truck so we could try out our recipes and gauge the public’s response. We were blown away and really excited by the immediate positive reactions to our food and the Chickpea culture. So moving to a restaurant happened sooner than expected.
You recently announced on your website that the restaurant had “gone vegan” and removed all eggs from the menu. What prompted the change?
We both grew up in households where meat was a main ingredient. Individually, through our own personal experiences we each became vegetarian, however. As our business began to grow, so did our research into ethical and sustainable practices. Months ago we removed dairy from our truck’s menu, so it seemed only natural to remove all animal products and by-products from Chickpea before opening the restaurant. We care very much about how our business impacts our community and the world as a whole.
You describe Chickpea’s cuisine as “delicious vegetarian comfort food with a Mediterranean twist.” How have Vancouver diners reacted to your menu?
Now we’re vegan comfort food 😉
The responses have always been positive. There was a bit of an uproar when we removed eggs from our Shakshuka (a dish that traditionally is made with eggs). But overall, people like our food regardless of their dietary restrictions, preferences or practices. In fact we hear a lot of meat-eaters telling us that they didn’t even notice that our meals are all plant-based.
Are there any dishes that have proven to be particularly popular?
Our Falafel Pita is a truck and restaurant favourite, and our chickpea fries seem to be taking Vancouver by storm. If you’re at the restaurant we’re currently obsessed with the Shakshuka Chickpea fries.
How would you describe the typical Chickpea customer? Is there a predominant demographic?
One thing we love about Chickpea is that both our truck and restaurant see customers of all different walks of life. We feed adorable children, serious business people, colourful hippies, cute old couples, proud vegans, and everyone in-between. Our customers are united by their desire for delicious food and good vibes.
Do you think vegan and vegetarian food is becoming more mainstream in Vancouver? If so, why?
Globally, we are becoming more aware of our impact on the world and how we’ve lost touch with our roots. As we move together as a community to reduce our carbon footprint, our eating habits play an important role. Vancouver is constantly working towards becoming more environmentally conscious, so it makes sense that more people are reducing or eliminating their animal product/by-product consumption.
What have you enjoyed most about launching and building Chickpea as a business?
Chickpea is more than just food. We’ve worked hard to create a business that reflects our desire to promote love, joy and creative inspiration. As a result, it’s been an absolute pleasure meeting new people who also care deeply about our planet and connecting with one another. Also, through the truck we’ve been exposed to some really cool local initiatives and events. In addition, we continue to love creating a family with our staff, customers and community members.
What have the biggest challenges been?
Anyone who’s started a business knows how all encompassing it is. Before Chickpea, we were both really good at taking time for ourselves and spending time with our family and friends. We’re working hard to regain that balance.
Do you have plans to expand Chickpea further? What are your goals for the future?
We are always discussing Chickpea’s future and new goals for the business. However, going back to our biggest challenges, for now we’re quite focused on having more quality time spent in nature with family and friends.
What would you say to skeptical carnivores to convince them to try Chickpea?
Carnivores regularly eat at Chickpea. So instead of trying to convince them, we’re happy that we can show how accessible and delicious meat-less meals are.
Chickpea is located at 4298 Main Street, Vancouver.