Until recently in Athens, if you were looking for fast food, there are chains like Grigoris and Everest, Goody’s and MacDonald’s, neighbourhood bakeries of all styles, serving all kinds of pies, and of course a souvlaki shop around every corner. Now there is also Vegan Nation, located right across Monastiraki Square, where the focus is packaged, meat and dairy-free foods, showcased on cool shelves to be taken out or casually eaten at one of the two tables outside the tiny store. From vegan sushi to one of Greece’s most lauded meat dishes, moussaka, this place offers plenty of no-frills yet tasty options (with several ethnic cuisine twists) to tourists and locals seeking guilt-free fast food indulgence.
Vegan Nation is brand new to Athens and not only – its owner, Alex Potter, who worked with vegan chef Nikos Gaitanos to create the menu, claims that it is the first in the world of its kind.
I visited with a friend Cassandra Wagstaffe who co-owns her own restaurant, Cafe Boheme in Kolonaki, Athens and whose diet is mostly vegan, and our preschool-age children, to sample a few dishes. Not everything on the menu was available as what the chefs create changes from day to day, and sitting at the table you aren’t handed any plates or glasses – as the idea is to keep it as fast-food-basic as it gets.
There are no freshly made drinks on the menu (and no alcoholic drinks either), although there are several cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices made in the morning and refrigerated for sale. One of our kids was fast asleep and the other (mine) did not take to the “popular moussaka” – he actually announced that he preferred the one his yiayia gives him. He spat out the soutzoukakia, probably because they were strongly seasoned with spices like cumin, which many kids his age are not very keen on, but he was thrilled by the cheesecake (which has a base of Oreo cookies) and the strawberry-chocolate-peanut butter smoothie.
I tried the Sushi Combo, a few forkfuls of the above-mentioned moussaka and soutzoukakia, as well as a salad with mango and cashew nuts and the cheesecake. Everything was tasty, and for a fast food place, very satisfying to my adult palate (although my friend and I agreed the moussaka was actually quite stodgy, and I found the sushi rice mushy – though I imagine keeping sushi rice to the perfect texture when it’s sitting on the shelf can be a challenge, considering it’s a food that has to be eaten immediately after preparation).
Like many others, I am overall excited to discover that an initiative like this has been born in Athens, and Potter seems to have a strong vision for how he intends to develop and improve upon every aspect. I laud Potter (also a gracious host, BTW) for having the grit to launch something like this in crisis-slammed Greece (something we discuss in the interview below), and also commend him for pushing forth with a truly original idea that has already received a very positive feedback and I’m certain has a bright potential for dynamic expansion in Greece and abroad. As for finding the ideal savoury dishes that my preschool kid will love, I will definitely go again and try other options! Cassandra’s comment on the Vegan Nation experience was: “A nice concept, well organized, clean, fresh and instant food at an economical price. A great option for vegans on the run, or for grabbing lunch between work or shopping in the city.”
INTERVIEW WITH VEGAN NATION OWNER ALEX POTTER
Q: In a nutshell, how do you define Vegan Nation as a concept and what it actually offers?
AP: A 100% all vegan on-the-go eatery serving a full spectrum of freshly prepared hot and cold multi-ethnic, neatly packed and exquisitely presented meals along with desserts and cold pressed juices that can all be taken away or consumed on the premises in an enjoyable and refreshing atmosphere.
Q: Please tell me a little about your own connection to the vegan diet & lifestyle.
AP: I grew up in a vegetarian/vegan household so it’s in my DNA in many ways.
Q: Having lived in so many countries, why did you choose crisis-hit Greece for opening this business?!
AP: Even though I am half Greek, I never grew up Greece. I would spend summers here when I was younger so I am familiar to some degree with the area. I ended up starting a venture in the digital media sector two years ago in full crisis Greece and was traveling back and forth between Los Angeles and Athens. While spending time here I saw that despite the country being in a crisis there was still ongoing demand both from the tourists as well as the locals especially in the food and beverage sector. Before going ahead with the shop I compared different markets including London and Los Angeles. From a business perspective I found Athens to be where it made most sense for this new venture.
Q: Who is your target audience?
AP: Greeks, Foreigners, Vegans, Non-vegans, Vegetarians etc. It’s really geared to appeal to everyone’s taste (vegan and non-vegan alike) and everyone’s wallet size.
Q: What’s the feedback so far from your Greek clients?
AP: Amazing. I see a twinkle in their eyes when they set eyes on the store. They all love the concept, the menu, the food, the taste and the prices. For Greek vegans it’s a haven.
Q: Please tell me about your menu – what is the objective in what you serve?
AP: It’s about filling a gap in the market and serving great dishes from a wide variety of cuisines at very reasonable prices. I am a strong believer that one should be able to have amazing food without having to necessarily pay a high price for it.
Q: Do you do deliveries as well?
AP: We are already gearing up to start delivery come September. Orders will be available directly by calling our store and also through E-food.
Q: What do you aspire to in the future for Vegan Nation?
AP: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone again from both Greeks and foreigners. An important amount of them have expressed on their own that they want Vegan Nation in their home country and in their local neighborhood. Humbly, we are working towards the opportunity of making that a reality.
Q: What do you really want our readers to know about Vegan Nation?
AP: That we are changing the dynamics in diversity of food being offered and the way it’s being offered with a unique and tasty 100% all vegan on-the-go wide selection menu.
Ermou 86, Monastiraki
Tel: 21 0322 6226
Hours 10:00AM – 6:00PM