IMAGINE having the New York elite at your feet with your fancy vegan restaurant.
Then in a blink of an eye everything is lost and you become a criminal on the run – meet Sarma Melngailis.
Who is Sarma Melngailis?
Sarma Melngailis is a former restauranteur who was convicted of fraud in 2017 after pleading guilty to stealing over $200,000 from an investor and scheming to defraud.
In 2004 she opened New York City restaurant Pure Food and Wine with her then-boyfriend, chef Matthew Kenney, and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow.
It was so popular Anne Hathaway, Alec Baldwin, Stevie Wonder and other celebrities were known for dining there.
Sarma then became famous in the American cooking world after launching a cookbook titled Raw Food, Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow in 2005.
The restaurant also featured in New York Magazine’s Top 100 Restaurants piece and made it into Forbes’ list of All Star New York Eateries five years in a row.
Sarma went on to open a chain of juice bars called One Lucky Duck, as well as an online store under the same name.
But her world changed for the worst when she met and married Anthony Strangis.
The pair went on to steal and defraud her employees and investors.
They went on the run for a year, before being tracked down to a Tennessee hotel, and arrested on fraud charges.
In May 2017, Sarma pleaded guilty to stealing over $200,000 from an investor and scheming to defraud and criminal tax fraud charges, and was sentenced to spend just under four months in jail.
She was incarcerated at Rikers Island prison in New York.
For his part, Strangis pleaded guilty to four counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree and was was sentenced to one year in jail and five years’ probation, as well as having to pay $840,000 in restitution to investors.
Having already served a year on remand, he was free to go after his verdict was announced.
What is Netflix documentary Bad Vegan about?
Bad Vegan is a four-part documentary series that explores how Sarma Melngailis, the celebrity restaurateur behind the glittering New York hotspot Pure Food and Wine, went from being the queen of vegan cuisine to being known as the “Vegan Fugitive.”
The synopsis reads: “Shortly after meeting a man named Shane Fox on Twitter in 2011, Melngailis begins draining her restaurant’s funds and funneling the money to Fox after he cons her into believing he could make her dreams — from expanding her food empire to making her beloved pitbull immortal — a reality…but only if she continues to obey his every request without question.
“A few years later the couple, now married and on the lam after stealing nearly $2 million from the restaurant and its staff, are found holed up in a Tennessee motel by law enforcement.
“Their undoing? A charge made under Fox’s real name, Anthony Strangis, for a Domino’s pizza.
“Bad Vegan takes viewers on a journey more bizarre than fiction.”
The documentary is out in Netflix on March 16, 2022 ay 8am.
Where is Sarma Melngailis now?
Since leaving prison, Sarma has moved to Harlem, where she lives with her dog Leon.
In May 2018, she filed for divorce for Strangis, according to New York Daily News.
She told the New York Post that same month that she was planning on leaving New York City to work on her memoir but hoped to reopen Pure Food and Wine in the future.
“If there was some magical opportunity to open the same restaurant in the same place, I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said. “I think New York would take me back.”
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