November 4, 2015
The rain is coming down in droves as rainboot-clad students and yoga mat-toting 20-somethings dash down St. Mark’s, some pausing under awnings to escape the deluge, others haggling with vendors over cheap umbrellas. The outside chaos, however, quickly fades as I duck into the new location of Ace customer V-Spot. Inside, Beatles music plays, a group of teenagers lounge at a table sharing wraps, and a mother spoonfeeds her toddler bites of gluten-free quinoa. Big glass jars filled with chocolate cookies line the bar and a vertical rack of plants give way to a room of exposed brick. A waiter with dreadlocks and a big smile greets me as I make my way to the back to chat with V-Spot co-founder and native Brooklynite Danny Carabano. On the menu today? Delicious gluten-free Portobello Spinach Tacos, an order of Avocado Fries, and some frank talk about what led Danny and his brother Alex to found the original Park Slope V-Spot ten years ago…and how their second location, which opened four months ago and boasts 100% organic vegan food, came to be.
Can you start us off by telling us about V-Spot’s food philosophy?
I’ve always wanted V-Spot to be a strictly vegan restaurant with NYC culture offering different types of food, but focusing on Latin. That’s what we are. And I wanted to help the veggie-curious work their way into a vegetarian diet. [When we started] in Park Slope we wanted to offer food to people who are interested in veganism and who would slowly be able to stop eating meat using our food as a substitute. [At St. Mark’s] we are an organic restaurant, so while there are a few ingredients here and there that you can’t buy organic, at least 90% of our food is organic–if not more.
What inspired you to open an organic location?
People asked us for it and it was an idea we had, but mainly it happened because the building owner [at St. Mark’s] approached us, asked us to put a V-Spot here, and said that it had to be organic. Here we actually get everything from Ace Natural other than paper goods. One hundred percent of our produce comes from Ace, we get quinoa, we get our organic brown rice, organic cold-pressed lemon juice, all of our fruits and veggies to make juices. We get everything from Ace.
Are there any specific menu items that are only offered at your St. Mark’s location?
We have some menu items that we did in the past that just made more sense in an organic restaurant. So we reintroduced the Raw Nori Roll, which is just like sushi with ginger almond pâté. I’m really excited about that being available here. And in Park Slope we buy our desserts from Vegan Treats but here we have a pastry chef, Shoshana, who makes our entire organic bakery section in our 2nd kitchen in the basement.
You were a teacher before you opened the first V-Spot. How did you get interested in the health food scene?
I never looked at it as the health food industry. I was a math teacher who wanted to stop eating animals. So I look at it more as an animal rights thing…but good vegan food was hard to get so it just seemed like a reasonable path.
So many of the vegan restaurant owners that I talk to were inspired to open an eatery because of their newfound interest in veganism–but, like you, had a completely different career before doing so. Are your two careers as different as they seem?
Totally different. Because the math doesn’t carry over at all…The main thing that was good is that really, teaching and owning a restaurant are about managing people. So if you can manage people, that would be the thing that carries over.
How have your eating habits changed since becoming vegan and opening V-Spot?
For the last ten years, almost all of my food comes from V-Spot. (Laughing) I’ve eaten only at one restaurant for the past 10 years! And that also involves why our menu changes ever…it’s just, like, my brother and I are eating here so much that [the cooks] would change it a little, do something special, just for us.
Around year six of being vegan, I started feeling healthier…my mind changed in just being vegan long enough. And being here now at the organic location, I can see why the organic life is important, especially with certain fragile fruits and vegetables which–it could be in my head but–I think they taste better here. So I kind of feel like my eyes are a little more open with the whole concept of not having pesticides in the food.
You and your brother Alex have been working together for 10 years now. How do you like owning a family business?
It depends on how well the business is going. There’s always stress in life in general, and when family’s involved. When things were the hardest you know, it was hard. And now it’s still difficult but we get along very well now. The more organized we get and the more successful we get, it’s still difficult but at least he and I don’t ever fight with each other. So whatever happens, we’re like, “Ok. We can do this.”
Thank you, Danny!
If you haven’t checked out V-spot’s new location, be sure to stop by soon! Not to be missed: their comedy shows, which happen the first Thursday of the month in Park Slope and the last Thursday of the month at St. Mark’s. The St. Marks location also has a private event space (which has been used for birthday parties, Halloween parties, a taco competition, and pop-ups). They are also planning on using it for shop-ups, so keep an eye out for their special events! If you love V-Spot’s food and wish you could being it home–you can. V-Spot just launched an organic retail line, available at stores near you!