“I would not choose to be vegan,” admits Dee Christensen, creator of The Planet Diner, the latest addition to Stratford’s renowned culinary scene: a carnivore-friendly vegan diner. And an oxymoron Dee has solved.
Rather than ghettoizing herbivores and celiacs with their own special little corner of the menu, Dee has turned the proverbial tables with fun diner food that is plant-based, plus a few meat options for those who want to have their bacon and eat it too.
“We’re not here to convert anyone, we don’t serve ‘health food’. This is authentic, naughty, diner food for vegans, vegetarians and celiacs that everyone else can enjoy too. Plus meat items for their friends and family. (This is the Pork Capital of Canada we’re living in after all.) We’re removing the communal barriers between those who eat meat and those who can’t or won’t.”
It was as a food lover, restaurant server (“A job I loved!”) and private caterer that Dee chose to go vegan. In Calgary, no less. “And I was not happy about it,” she says.
But an inherited susceptibility to cholesterol foisted this dietary change on her. “It was either go vegan or go on Lipitor® for the rest of my life. My doctor, friends and family were all skeptical, but it worked. So I taught myself how to cook vegan and kept experimenting. Now I can serve vegan food that doesn’t feel like a compromise, without making their family and friends feel like they’re being punished for wanting pork sausages with their eggs.”
Armed with both food services experience and a background as a real estate business analyst, financial manager, and commercial property designer, Dee and her wife were looking for living options outside Toronto. “There was another city we considered but we chose Stratford because there’s a low season when locals get their town back, an inclusive atmosphere, culture-
forward environment and lively culinary scene,” she says. “As a food lover and numbers person, I knew that diner food for vegans would fly here.”
Planning the Planet
As the financial manager for Red Rabbit, another Stratford restaurant and Perth Community Futures client, Dee learned of PCF and saw her opportunity. She approached PCF in November 2017 and opened April 11th. “The approval process went quickly, but being an analyst, I was really organized with my business plan. They loved all my coloured binder tabs!”
The financing went into physical alterations, inventory and starting payroll. “I had no family money behind me, just a normal person’s savings, and I didn’t want to start off under-capitalized,” says Dee. “Everyone can tell if you’re stressed about money, and you only get one shot at a good first impression with customers. But we’ve been busy since Day One.”
“The [PCF] staff were also very supportive – they came in the first week we were open and pretty much ordered everything on the menu just to try it.”
Dee had her way designing the 26-seat space on Downie Street (40 with the patio this summer) from the red metal flake upholstery to the ergonomic bussing bins. “I love the details.”
With her staff of five, Dee keeps opening hours contained, 11am to 8pm, Wednesday to Sunday. “I’m happy to work hard, but I also want a life with evenings at home, family days off, vacations for me and my employees … it can be done.”