Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU
Seven hours before the re-opening of their restaurant The Owlery, co-owners Toby Foster and Ryan Woods are ironing out a few remaining kinks. The lock on the front door needs to be replaced, there is a mysterious leak in one of the taps at the bar and the letters for the sign are still laying on the floor in the restaurant.
It’s taken four months and one false start — the opening was originally planned for April 6 — to renovate their new location on West 6th Street on the square in downtown Bloomington, Indiana. The space had never been used as a restaurant, so they had to start from nothing, putting in the full kitchen, building the bar and even installing bathrooms.
Many popular dishes remain from the previous location on Rogers Street, including the pierogies and chicken sandwich.
But don’t be fooled — The Owlery serves vegan food (make it vegetarian by adding some dairy cheese or real honey). The chicken sandwich is actually breaded and fried tofu, and the pierogies can be served with tofu bacon and vegan cheese.
From Music To Food
The two young owners had no experience running a restaurant before they opened in March 2011.
Both musicians, they had traveled around the country playing with various bands and eating at vegetarian restaurants along the way. They saw the demand for a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Bloomington, and according to Woods, “we both kept waiting for that place to open and it didn’t open. So, we did it ourselves.”
Even with more Americans going meatless (or nearly meatless), vegetarian and vegan food can be a turn-off for some diners. Foster says losing potential customers because of their specialized menu isn’t a concern. “If we are, we’re not worried about it,” he says. “I don’t think that we would ever not want to serve vegetarian food.”
Tofu Dressed As Chicken
The dish Woods recommends to new visitors is the Fried Chicken Dinner. It’s served with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side dish of your choice. As with the fried chicken sandwich, the “chicken” is actually breaded and fried tofu.
This falls in line with a trend to make vegetarian food look and feel like real meat. The food industry hopes to snag the 44 percent of American eaters aged 18-29 who choose to eat meatless at least once a week — call them “flexitarians.”
Woods speculates this trend is more about speaking the language than replicating the experience of eating meat. “It’s so much easier to explain it by saying it’s a chicken sandwich, than trying to say it’s a breaded tofu,” he says. “That makes someone think of something completely different than what they’re actually getting.”