SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City is a city on the rise in many ways, one of which is catering to vegan and vegetarian diets. VegNews Magazine in April named Salt Lake City "The Next Great Vegan City." Dozens of restaurants feature entirely vegan or vegetarian fare, and many more offer vegetarian options.
The city's status as an up-and-comer is part of what surprised and upset Ian Rigby so much when he found that a sandwich from a well-known Salt Lake restaurant was labeled as vegetarian, but actually has an ingredient cooked with meat.
He said an employee at Moochie's told him their marinara sauce is also used to cook the meatballs after he asked about another menu item.
"Are you kidding? You're marking something on your menu as vegetarian clearly, and you're blatantly, knowingly putting meat in it without telling the consumer that a vegetarian option has meat in it," Rigby said.
Moochie's co-owner Joanna Rendi said she isn't much concerned, however, and hasn't had a problem with customers upset about the sandwich, especially considering the restaurant specializes in meaty items like cheesesteaks from her native Philadelphia. This is the first complaint she's heard about it.
"It's not like we're trying to keep it from anybody," she said. "We do tell people that the sauce isn't strictly vegetarian."
Rigby, however, said he had eaten the sandwich four or five times before he was informed about how it was cooked.
Rendi said that while they used to have a separate pot for vegetarian sauce, space constraints in the small kitchen have forced them to use only one pot for both meatballs and marinara sauce.
"As far as I'm concerned, that is a vegetarian sandwich," she said.
Rigby won't be going back to Moochie's for a while, he said, especially if the restaurant continues to label the "Eggplant Parmigiana" sandwich as vegetarian.
"It's just really upsetting to vegetarians who probably frequent there, who are choosing a vegetarian option — so they're told," he said. "But it's not."
Rendi said that Moochie's tries "to accommodate people as much as we can," but that there is a limit to what they can do. She said people with dietary restrictions need to make sure and ask carefully about what they are being served.
She also said the sauce is strictly vegetarian for part of the day, before they add the meatballs, and said interested customers can ask. There are also several vegetarian menu items that don't contain the sauce in question.
"It's a gray area," she said.