Inside LA's Innovative Plant-Based Pub
The team behind Beelman’s is nothing if not bold. As if overhauling a solid burgers-and-wings menu at the downtown Los Angeles spot in favor of all-in vegan pub food was not gutsy enough, Chef Caroline Concha has also peppered the restaurant’s new dishes with assertive Asian flavors.
The concept may sound unconventional, even eccentric, but it’s a natural move for the chef—and one that comes as a response to consumer demand. Although not a vegan, Concha is intimately familiar with plant-based cooking, having earned her stripes at Tony’s Darts Away, the vegan-friendly craft beer bar operated by the same hospitality management group that owns Beelman’s, Artisanal Brewers Collective.
Over five years, she worked her way up from busser to executive chef at Tony’s. And when she did leave for Beelman’s, Concha brought her vegan know-how with her, building a menu that capitalized on what the vegan customers at Tony’s had loved.
By melding flavors from Asia-Pacific with the vegan cooking skills she honed at Tony’s, the Filipino-born Concha believes she’s filled a void. “There are tons of places to get pub food and plenty of nice Asian restaurants, but I wasn’t aware of anywhere serving easy-eating Asian food,” she says.
As for the vegan component, Paige Reilly, a partner in Artisanal Brewers Collective, says that too was lacking in the dining scene when the group purchased the bar, then called Beelman’s Pub, in early 2017.
“Los Angeles is the easiest place, maybe in the world, to be a vegan. There are a million vegans and a million choices for them,” she says. “Though the intent was not necessarily to go full vegan, we saw a niche missing in downtown L.A.,” she says, adding that vegan dining in that particular area skewed toward high-end.
Six months after acquiring the pub, the new owners took the plunge, fully revamping the menu in an effort to create a fun bar where vegans could go to eat things other than fries, Reilly says.
For Artisanal Brewers Collective—which is backed in part by former Golden Road Brewing cofounder and longtime vegan Tony Yanow—casual, plant-based food is in the company DNA. When it purchased Beelman’s, the beer organization already operated a handful of vegan-friendly bars around L.A., including Tony’s Darts Away, Mohawk Bend, and the Stalking Horse. Beelman’s, however, marked the company’s first exclusively vegan concept.
While fries remain on offer, chicken wings have made way for small plates such as nacho-esque Tachos (soyrizo, cashew cheese, salsa, gochujang crema, and chili pinto beans) and Concha’s riff on mozzarella sticks, called Wonton Mee Bites (smoked tofu, wonton wrappers, balsamic reduction, and sriracha aioli). Burgers are now of the plant-based Impossible Meat variety, and creations such as a fried rice–like Loco Moco Bowl, featuring Impossible Meat, jasmine rice, ponzu, sweet chili sriracha, and sambal sauce, and the Viet Nom Nom Wrap (citrus-glazed Impossible Meat cutlets, rice, and green papaya) populate the menu.
“[Concha] doesn’t necessarily play it safe with vegan cooking,” Reilly says. “She doesn’t use crazy ingredients, either. It’s what she does with the ingredients that’s just awesome.” Beelman’s 2.0 is a boon for vegans, particularly those who live or work in its burgeoning neighborhood. In recent months, the pub has seen an uptick in weekday business for lunch and happy hour—when the Poor Man’s Korean BBQ tater tots with barbecue and sweet chili sauces are the crowd favorite. It has also tacked on weekend brunch service.
As excited as vegans and new customers may be, Reilly concedes that vegan food can be deemed scary by the uninitiated—particularly those who were used to the original Beelman’s fare. For the new team, the solution was simple: Sit a guest down, put a beer in front of them, and give them a taste of the food. Reilly says Beelman’s won back 99 percent of the customers who were hesitant about the change.
Concha recalls one guest ordering the Impossible Burger and declaring it the best burger he’d ever tasted—never realizing it was meatless. “If the name of an item or the menu wording makes it pop, people are more likely to try it,” Concha says. “I have tricked a lot of people into eating vegan food without telling them first.” Another technique Concha says she often wins over skeptics: making the food spicy.
Beverage-wise, Beelman’s has gone the tiki route, creating tropical offerings to complement Concha’s dishes. Signature cocktails include the Castaway (Plantation silver and pineapple rums, Créme de Banana and Crème de Pêche, Orgeat, vanilla, and lime and pineapple juices) and a Piña Colada made with fresh coconut milk. Wines and a roster of craft beers, both draft and bottled, round out the drink list.
While it’s a marked change, Reilly is quick to point out that Beelman’s remains loyal to its roots. “This is absolutely still a bar,” she says. “We watch football and drink beer and eat not necessarily healthy.” The pub features views of flat-screen televisions from both interior booths and a 40-seat outdoor patio.
And to dispel a misconception, she adds, “‘Vegan’ doesn’t mean ‘crunchy’ or ‘hippy,’ nor does it always mean ‘healthy.’” After all, veganism comes in many levels and styles—particularly in Los Angeles, which has become a mecca for the plant-based diet.
In the case of Beelman’s, vegan simply means good food made without animal products. The team likes to spread the idea of veganism without pushing it on people. And although Reilly, Concha, and company have no qualms about deviating from the norm, they’re mindful to not alienate anyone. “We’re not striving to be known as just a vegan’s pub. We really hope to be everyone’s pub,” Reilly says.