This month marks a first anniversary for WaterCourse Foods, but it's not a commemoration of the restaurant's first year in business: The veteran vegetarian restaurant has been serving its meatless menu for seventeen years. This anniversary marks one year as an all-vegan restaurant — a Veganniversary, as it's been dubbed. This evening from 6 to 8 p.m., WaterCourse will celebrate with vegan snacks and a cake from WaterCourse Bakery. Guest DJ Brian Polk of Suspect Press will be there to spin some animal-friendly tunes, and owner Daniel Landes will address guests (the event is open to the public) at some point in the evening.
The restaurant had previously included dairy and eggs in its recipes, but Landes made the decision last year to rid the house of all animal products and serve strictly vegan food. Upon such a drastic change, many longstanding customers, myself included, had questions and some concerns about the switch. Was it going to be the same WaterCourse? How much would the menu change? Would they still have seitan wings?! To get some answers and check in on how the business is doing one year into going all-vegan, we contacted Landes for a little Q and A.
Chelesea Keeney: How has the first year been as a 100 percent vegan restaurant?
Dan Landes: The biggest challenge we faced taking WaterCourse Foods from a successful and longstanding vegetarian restaurant to a fully plant-based vegan restaurant was dealing with the natural human resistance to change. Our longstanding guests (some have been dining with us regularly for the past seventeen years) were afraid the change might turn their beloved restaurant into something unrecognizable and undesirable. Even some of our vegan guests were concerned. Was there enough demand for vegan food in Denver to support this change? Just like in 1998, when I opened an all-vegetarian restaurant against the advice of almost everyone, the question of supply and demand was exactly the one I intended to answer. I believed that there was a tremendous demand for a vegan restaurant. I was willing to risk everything to prove this. And guess what? There is enough demand. BAM!
What's the biggest change?
The biggest change, besides getting rid of all animal products from the restaurant, is the vibe. Since 2006, when we moved WaterCourse from its original location on 13th and Sherman (home of City, O' City) I was always aware of disharmony in the energy of WaterCourse. Something was amiss. Out of place. Odd. We worked hard to figure out the solution by changing certain things in the restaurant; menu, paint, layout, management. Nothing addressed this underlying funk I was picking up on. One day it dawned on me: 'GO VEGAN!' We never looked back, and immediately WaterCourse's vibe found its harmony. Beautiful.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
Truly a hard question. The Southern plate is great. The Baja tacos. The chorizo hash. All great.
What was the hardest transition?
The hardest part of the transition was convincing our guests that it is indeed brilliant and not ignorant to take something that is working and totally change it. The name of the restaurant is WaterCourse Foods. It is based on the philosophy of change.
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How have the customers responded?
The first few months, we experienced a dip in business. Then people just started flowing in. Our guests either love what we do or they have found another place to dine.
What can we expect in the next year — anything exciting?
I have a feeling we will be announcing something very, very, huge in the next month or so. Wait for it...