Ananth Pullela says he’s on a mission to “change the perception of vegetarian food.”
Pullela’s restaurant Jazzy Veggie, located at 108 South Main St., is slated to join the ranks of other vegetarian restaurants, like Seva and Earthen Jar, when it opens early next month. Pullela, said he was motivated to open the vegan eatery in part to remove the stigma that vegetarian food is boring and not flavorful or nutritious.
“I wanted to change that … by offering some exciting flavors that are traditionally limited to the meat-based foods,” Pullela said. “Why can’t we adapt those kinds of flavors and make the food more exciting and create some new ones in the process?”
Pullela said he’s been working with his chef to put together a number of innovative dishes like seasoned plantain chips with signature sauces and dips as well as a selection of veggie burgers that he insists will not taste like cardboard. The restaurant plans to offer various types of condiments that can add another layer of flavor to the food like honey barbecue or Mexican spices.
Jazzy Veggie’s food will be rich in protein, Pullela said, to cater to health conscious patrons. He also described one additional item he’s particularly excited about — a vegan cheese pizza that he calls “guilt-free” because of its low cholesterol and calorie content.
Ann Arbor resident Steve Bradley, who’s a waiter at a different restaurant, said that while he’s not vegan or vegetarian, he thinks Jazzy Veggie will be a welcome addition to the local culinary scene.
“I’ve worked in town a long time, and there’s a lot of people that would be interested in that because they really have no place to go, or very … few options,” Bradley said.
Pullela said he knows what it’s like to have to hunt for vegetarian food. When he moved to the United States from India 17 years ago, Pullela said vegetarian options were hard to come by.
“At that time … if I go to a typical fast food (place) I’d have to ask, ‘OK, hold the meat, please hold the meat, please hold this and that,’ so they put (on) a tomato and lettuce and that’s about it,” Pullela said.
Though he admits things were different then, he said that even now there are often only one or two vegetarian options to choose from on a menu, and these often lack the creativity he plans to offer at his restaurant.
Pullela said he first got the idea to bring more vegetarian food to Ann Arbor while he was pursuing his MBA at the Ross School of Business, but he got serious about opening the restaurant in the last five years.
“The formal training in business really helped me in putting together my business plan,” Pullela said.
Pullela is currently working with contractors to change the restaurant’s façade and interior and has added tomato red and lime green walls, which he said he chose to make the restaurant “vibrant and not dull.”
Puella added that he doesn’t consider other vegetarian restaurants in the area competition because he thinks patrons want a variety of vegetarian foods.
“One day they’ll go to Seva, and maybe the other day they’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Jazzy Veggie for this kind of food,’ ” Pullela said.
Jeff Jackson, owner of Seva Restaurant, said the more vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the area, the better.
“I mean competition is competition, but the more options you have, I think the more people come down and see you,” Jackson said.
Rackham student Leigh Gallagher said she might visit Jazzy Veggie simply for its interesting name, but she did voice some concerns about the food options the restaurant may offer.
“Isn’t veganism dated and unhealthy?” Gallagher said.
Rackham student Michael Gorwitz said that while he is not vegan, he would be interested in visiting an all-vegan restaurant like Jazzy Veggie on occasion.
“Why not?” Gorwitz said.