When I encounter chef Chloe Coscarelli and Samantha Wasser, the pair behind downtown Manhattan hotspot By Chloe, they're gushing about some great vegan sprinkles they've recently discovered.
"Normally vegan sprinkles are really dull and hard to find," explains Wasser.
"I was beside myself," says Coscarelli of her reaction.
Now, if you're able to be bowled over by ice cream accoutrements, it's safe to say you're probably an excitable type, and Wasser and Coscarelli do not disappoint. Their bubbly enthusiasm is contagious, and most certainly a prized asset when it comes to starting a business—and probably one of even greater value when that business is a vegan restaurant.
Coscarelli, who's been vegan for 12 years, first came to national attention by becoming the first vegan chef to ever win a cooking competition on television, when she was featured in an episode of Cupcake Wars, in 2010.
"I actually just stumbled upon a casting call on Twitter and thought, Oh, it would be fun to do a cupcake competition—I love cupcakes!" she explains. "I didn't realize it wasn't a vegan competition, but they let me on, and it was great." She saw it as a great chance to showcase one of her operating principles as a chef: that vegan food is not just about "being as good as regular food," as she puts it, but about tasting even better.
She found herself yearning for better restaurant options, and decided it was time to open a place of her own. So she took to the internet to start researching potential restaurant partners, stumbling upon Wasser via a Google search.
When Coscarelli came calling, Wasser was already a de facto vegan without even realizing it, as her nutritionist had been telling her to stay away from meat and dairy as she embarked on her "wedding diet"—but the fare she was finding was not doing the trick for her. "There was no place I could go where I felt like I was eating healthy food, but also indulging," says Wasser. "When Chloe brought me some amazing cookies, I was like 'OK, we need to do this immediately.'"
Having grown up in the restaurant business—her father is Jimmy Haber, who heads up Esquared Hospitality, the company behind BLT—Wasser had always harbored a passion for restaurants. Prior to By Chloe, she had helped build Horchata, a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, from the ground up. "I literally hung up the string lights myself," she recalls, laughing.
In the design of By Chloe—for which she teamed up with New York-based firm Dekar Design—Wasser says that her aim was to create a space that was accessible, while also being a bit kitschy and playful. The motivation behind the design is sympatico with the philosophy behind the menu: make veganism fun. "It can be a scary word if [you] don't really understand what it means," Wasser says, "so I think that by sort of reinventing the classics—like tacos and guac burgers—it makes it a little bit more approachable to people."
"Sam had to work really hard on making sure that the materials she was picking out were vegan," explains Coscarelli, "but we didn't want it to look vegan." Wasser was tasked with finding the appropriately sourced materials for everything from fabric for the banquettes to the lounge chairs that hang from the ceiling. "We want our customers to just feel good when they come here," Coscarelli says. "They'll feel good about what they're putting in their body, and what they're putting their money towards."
The two clearly succeeded in creating an inviting environment. If you need proof, just show up at the restaurant when it opens each weekday at 11 a.m., where lines have been out the door since opening day.
And with the instant success of By Chloe's flagship location comes expansion: a new property on 22nd St., and two new locations in Boston, are set to open this summer; and a bakery next door to the current location is poised to open by the fall. And the two are heading west soon as well, partnering with Whole Foods 365 for an in-store location in Los Angeles set to open at the end of May.
"I think the main goal is to just show as many people as possible how delicious and fun vegan food can be," Coscarelli says. "Our goal is just to spread that message as far and wide as we can, and opening new stores is an excellent first step to that. We'd love to see everyone everywhere eating vegan soon, and enjoying our food."
For more, see bychefchloe.com. And read on to learn how to make Chloe Coscarelli's delicious Chlostess cupcakes!