The vegan family tray at Ore Nell’s includes smoked tofu, XOLO BBQ seitan, potato salad, coleslaw, collard greens, mac and cheese, pinto beans, queso, chips, pickles and french fries. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

A recent plant-based menu expansion at the already vegan-friendly Texas barbecue spot Ore Nell’s has kept the restaurant’s seats filled during the winter slow season. It’s a classic case of the vegan veto vote.

“I sold more seitan than ribs on a Wednesday in January,” said Will Myska, Ore Nell’s executive chef and owner. “We didn’t go through too many orders of ribs, but we had 12 orders of seitan. It’s really kept us relevant in these slower months. It’s a challenge to keep up with the demand.”

The vegan veto vote occurs when a group of family, friends or colleagues plans to go out to eat together and there is a herbivore among their ranks. The vegan or vegetarian vetoes any suggested restaurants that don’t offer solid plant-based meals and steers the group toward a restaurant that does. Restaurants with robust vegan menus benefit from the vegan vote, while restaurants with lackluster options suffer a veto.

Although the term “vegan veto vote” has been popping up here and there in the mainstream press for years, few people aside from vegans and vegetarians seem to know about the phenomenon or how it affects a restaurant’s bottom line. I found a reference to the phenomenon’s ability to increase restaurant business as far back as 2007 in an academic paper, published in the journal Hospitality Review, about how to “understand the vegetarian guest.”

Based in Kittery (the Maine municipality with the highest per capita number of vegetarian businesses), Ore Nell’s has long been popular with groups, thanks in part to its BBQ tofu and vegan mac and cheese. In August, Ore Nell’s opened a second restaurant in Biddeford, and this winter, a vegan menu revamp added XOLO BBQ seitan and vegan queso to both menus. The revamp has supercharged demand.

Restaurant consultant and chef Mimi Loureiro of XOLO Kitchen, based in Rye, New Hampshire, helped Ore Nell’s change its menu. Loureiro said in her experience, most restaurant owners have never heard of the vegan veto vote and have no idea if it’s hurting or helping their business.


“Will (Myska) has an awareness that having vegan options makes sense from a financial perspective, but also an inclusive perspective,” Loureiro said. “It’s unusual for a Texas barbecue place.”

Loureiro’s suggestions also helped lighten the load in the kitchen. Previously, Ore Nell’s cooks would make two versions of potato salad and coleslaw – one vegan and one non-vegan. She suggested swapping in Hellmann’s Vegan mayo for regular mayonnaise (which has eggs) and serving all customers the vegan version.

“The whole team has taken it on as a fun challenge,” Myska said. “In Kittery, we set the precedent with smoked tofu and vegan mac and cheese. Biddeford has really taken it by storm, so we hit another (underserved) clientele there.”

Other local restaurants have also experienced the positive side of the vegan veto vote, including Bird & Co. in Woodford’s Corner. The restaurant added vegan churro French toast and plant-based chimichangas to its brunch menu and found that the number of families and groups frequenting the restaurant increased, a fact it attributed to a menu that offers something for everybody. Other restaurants with significant vegan and vegetarian menu items report a similar response from diners.

The make-your-own Veggie Life burger at Three Dollar Deweys is award-winning and crowd-pleasing. Photo courtesy of Three Dollar Deweys

At Three Dollar Deweys in Portland’s Old Port, chef Emma Lown sees a lot of group meal tickets that include vegan dishes, such as vegan nachos or BBQ jackfruit sandwiches, alongside non-vegan options.

“I’ll put out a ticket for a cheeseburger, a Reuben and two vegan options,” Lown elaborated. Last year, she refreshed Deweys already vegan-friendly menu, adding a crispy Buffalo tofu sandwich, a vegan poutine and a build-your-own Veggie Life veggie burger, which, by the way, was named the city’s best veggie burger in a 2023 Best of Portland contest.


In Arundel, the fine dining restaurant Bandaloop also attracts a lot of groups because of its vegan-inclusive menu. “Bigger groups come here because they know everybody will have an option,” Bandaloop executive chef and co-owner W. Scott Lee said.

This past Valentine’s Day, for instance, Bandaloop’s prix fixe, three-course meal offered diners a choice of either tofu or lamb. Lee said he always crafts the menu, which changes seasonally, to have a plant-centric base that can complement different protein choices. The current menu includes a number of vegan dishes, such as a Three Sisters stew with chochoyotes made from Maine corn masa. In addition, the grilled chicken dish with crispy Brussels sprouts, pumpkin polenta fries and a zesty negro chocolate mole “is vegan except for the chicken,” Lee said, as is “almost every dish we make.” This allows customers to swap in a plant-based protein – such as baked or fried Heiwa tofu – to veganize their order.

A Sol Food 365 chocolate-raspberry custom vegan cake at Bandaloop. Photo courtesy of Bandaloop

This appeal to vegans carries through dessert at Bandaloop, which employs vegan pastry chef Missy Christy Maidana, and does a steady trade in nightly vegan desserts, as well as custom orders for special occasion vegan cakes. At Ore Nell’s, the vegan pecan pie tartlets have proved particularly popular.

Even during the slow winter season, these plant-based touches keep dining rooms at Ore Nell’s, Bird & Co., Three Dollar Deweys, Bandaloop and many other vegan-friendly spots full by making them welcoming to culinary mixed groups. That’s the power of the vegan veto vote.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

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