Local cafes cater to growing popularity of veganism among students

As veganism becomes more prevalent on the Syracuse University campus, Strong Hearts Cafe and Café Kubal offer carefully crafted menu items without any animal products.

Interviews with students and local merchants indicate that a new nutritional trend — going vegan — is taking hold at Syracuse University. Featuring fresh and healthier foods without any kind of animal byproducts, veganism is now a behavior that many students embrace. As a result, several cafes close to campus are now including vegan items their menus.

Photo: Manuela Marin Salcedo
Strong Hearts Cafe displays vegan, dairy-free chocolate coconut cupcakes

Located at 719 E. Genesee St., Strong Hearts Cafe presents a variety of strictly vegan meals, ranging from organic soy-based milkshakes to meatless sandwiches and salads. This earth-friendly coffeehouse opened in May 2005, when owners Joel Capolongo and Nick Ryan decided they wanted to offer their customers in Syracuse a chance to have healthier meals every day. They also wanted to collaborate on ending animal abuse. “When I see animals trapped in farms and laboratories, I don’t want to financially contribute to their suffering,” Capolongo said. “I want to support things that are positive rather than negative.”

Strong Hearts is not the only restaurant that introduces its customers to a vegan diet. Café Kubal, with one location at 720 University Ave., is a small coffee shop where customers can read the menu off chalkboard signs and socialize over organic coffee or fresh quinoa salads.

Although Matt Godard, the owner of the cafe, does not follow a vegan lifestyle, he agreed that students are becoming more interested in the idea. “There is a stronger demand for vegan lunch options and vegan baked goods, so we are trying to incorporate more of these products into our menu,” Godard said.

Like Godard, Capolongo agreed that there has been an increase in vegan alimentation. “Younger people are more open-minded and are willing to go against tradition,” Capolongo said. “They are still developing their own ideologies and philosophies about life.” The owner has seen a rise in student customers and said that SU students now constitute 10-15 percent of their business.

Students said having vegan options closer to campus can also help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Maria Cristo, a junior at SU, said she recognized that healthy eating and exercise have become a huge trend for the younger generation. “Fitness is more important than ever now. Strong is the new skinny, and people are less tolerant toward junk food,” she said. Cristo said vegan and clean eating is particularly important in college since students care more about their appearances and want to maintain an attractive body.

Laura Ryan, a vegan employee at Strong Hearts and Nick Ryan’s sister, recognized that maintaining such a lifestyle is not always an easy task for college students because of limited budgets and fewer options at dining halls. However, she advised students to learn how to cook and try different vegan protein options in order to have easier access to a healthy diet. “Tofu is a great alternative for meat,” Ryan said. “It is cheap and can be easily combined with different ingredients.”

The staff at Café Kubal is also aware that cost and accessibility of vegan products can become an issue when embracing the vegan trend. Employee Racquel Luciano said she believes that the more popular veganism becomes, the less expensive it will be for students to adapt to it. “Although the high prices of vegan products affected our budget at first, we have now managed to control it and have added a variety of vegan soups and salads to our menu,” she added.

While Strong Hearts Cafe offers strictly vegan meals, not every customer seems to follow such a rigorous diet. Phillip Webster, a frequent Strong Hearts customer, said absolute purity is hard to achieve. “You have to remind yourself that we are all participating in this system,” he said. Webster said he strongly believes that individuals need to realize what is going on in the food industry in order to make informed choices about their nutrition, and to improve the food industry. 

Both the staffs at Strong Hearts and Café Kubal said they maintain a strong employee-to-customer relationship by paying close attention the their clients’ needs and desires. While Godard recently hired a vegan baker to prepare more dessert options for his consumers, Capolongo has changed his menu on several occasions based on client feedback.

If some students are still wondering why the word "vegan" has gained so much importance around campus, Capolongo recommended going to meatvideo.com for a visual message that communicates the truth behind meat production. “If you watch it and you can still justify eating animals, then more power to you,” he said.

One last piece of advice that both Capolongo and Ryan agreed upon is to search your heart and try to find some answers to the conflicts that exist in our alimentation and diet. “When you become vegan, doors open. They don’t close,” Capolongo said. 

Food Industry Sins Go Beyond Meat

If you choose not to eat meat that certainly is a personal choice. There are many bad things happening to our food selections today including GMO foods that are not labeled as such except in just a very few states. Also, corn sweeteners keep showing up in more and more products, many of which you would never suspect. Just be vigilant in reading labels and eat fresh whenever possible. Great health to all.


Great article!
Full of information for us vegan lovers.
Thanks for sharing these locations

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