March 2023 - THE CUT: Vegos Vegan Restaurant
I am a meat eater, a purveyor of burgers, chicken enchiladas, and steak. So when I accepted an invitation to lunch at a vegan restaurant, I was prepared to walk out famished. But Vegos was a pleasant surprise. I expected salad-related dishes, but the menu was full of New Mexican classics and popular comfort foods. I ordered the Seitan Enchilada Plate. When they put my order in front of me, I still was skeptical of what I was about to consume and the result. The first bite I savored. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t meat. It was a delicious experience I talked about for days after the fact. Then friends shared that the owners are terrific. So I had to sit down with Elizabeth and Jonathan Bibibano and get the story behind this jewel of vegan cuisine in the community.
Was vegan cuisine always in your wheelhouse, or did you start as a meat eater and discover it?
We both grew up on a traditional western diet that included a diet heavy in meat, dairy, and eggs. We first discovered vegetarianism while living in central Alaska. The cost of buying meat was too high, and the grocery store was too far away to justify the expense of buying meat. So we challenged ourselves and decided to stop buying/eating it. We felt such positive changes that we moved from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one and never looked back.
How did your journey begin in creating Vegos?
For many years we knew we wanted to open a restaurant. We didn’t know what kind. After Elizabeth enrolled in culinary school, Vegos quickly took shape. We relocated back to Albuquerque and looked into the marketplace for all our favorite dishes but in a vegan variety and were surprised to find that they virtually didn’t exist. Our favorite New Mexican restaurants put lard in their tortillas and beans, or their rice had chicken stock. We kept bouncing around to different food establishments hoping to find something on the menu that we, as vegans, could also enjoy that wasn’t just a salad with the cheese and dressing removed. When we realized what we were looking for didn’t exist, we knew what kind of restaurant to create. We started small by serving at the Railyards Farmers Market, thanks to the sponsorship we received through Street Food Institute. This platform allowed us to test the market to see if we were the only ones feeling this way or if other people in our community were also seeking a vegan New Mexican option. We quickly found that we weren’t alone, and Vegos has grown from a small table and tent into a food truck and now a brick-and-mortar restaurant, all in just under four years.
Has the experience of working as a couple been a challenging one?
Working with your spouse may not be the best choice for all couples. For us, it’s been a no-brainer! We met at work, so it never felt unusual for us. Vegos only works because it has the two of us to help it grow.
When did you know that you had something special?
We love this question! For both of us, the answer is the same. It was November 2019, and we were debuting our red chile jackfruit tamales at the Railyards Farmers Market. The walkways crowded with people looking at all the vendors and all the options available to them. We had this half-folding lid covering the tamales to keep them hot. We realized no one knew what we were selling because our truck was hidden. So folding back the lid, a billow of steam released, and people’s heads turned to our booth. People would stop in mid-step and turn to come to our booth and ask about our tamales. Some folks were skeptical at first, but whenever they would buy one, take a few steps followed by a few bites, they would about-face and come and buy another one. That was the moment we knew we were onto something special.
What is the most rewarding moment you had sharing your love of vegan food with New Mexico?
The most rewarding moment is probably a tie between being awarded the Best Food Truck in the state by Edible New Mexico Magazine and raising enough funds to build out our restaurant dining room. Winning Best Food Truck was an unbelievable honor because it was in a category that wasn’t vegetarian or vegan. It had taken so much hard work, and earning that recognition was humbling. The second moment was when we launched a campaign to see if we could raise enough money to make our dining room a reality. The community came together and believed in us enough to invest their hard-earned money to make our dream a reality was almost magical. Both moments were so unbelievably rewarding.
What does the future hold for Vegos?
The future of Vegos looks bright! Despite how quickly we’ve grown in under four years, we are not done yet. We have exciting plans for the future, but we aren’t quite ready to share details. Let’s say we plan on sticking around for a while.
Where can people find out more about you and your restaurant?
Folks can read about Vegos and our story by visiting our website at www.vegosabq.com or following us on Instagram and Facebook @vegosabq. Or better yet, stop by, and visit us at 4003 Carlisle Blvd NE Albuquerque, NM 87107. You can find us Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 am - 8:00 pm. We look forward to serving you soon!