Plant-based dining carves out Baton Rouge food scene space

MJ's Cafe's cauliflower wrap with a side of curried carrot soup.(Collin Richie)

It wasn’t that long ago that vegan businesses were unheard of in Baton Rouge. While they’re still modest in number, vegan and vegetarian offerings continue to gain traction.

It’s not that more people are opting fully into these lifestyles. Some certainly are. But no matter their culinary proclivities, a larger number of local diners are incorporating at least some plant-based eating.

“There’s definitely more curiosity about plant-based foods,” says Maria Howard, who founded Plant Based Foods By Lotus, a vegan dessert company, with her husband, Allen Howard. “A lot of our customers are not even vegan.”

A few years ago, the Howards decided to go vegan to take better care of themselves. They mastered making their favorite savory dishes in vegan form, and then spent a lot of time developing vegan alternatives to Dutch apple pie, Pop-Tarts and other favorite baked goods.

What started as a lifestyle choice turned into a business venture, and the couple began selling sweets at community pop-up events and food truck roundups near Southern University. They started an Instagram account and participated in the Mid City Makers Market. They began catering and placed their items in Vegan Friendly Foods and Southern Cofe.

“People were really excited about it, and they started placing orders for birthday cakes, cookies, all kinds of things,” Maria Howard says. “There was also a lot of crossover with people who wanted gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free baked goods.”

Nationally, incorporating at least some plant-based eating is more popular than ever. The No. 2 best overall diet of 2021 in U.S. News and World Report’s annual roundup was the Flexitarian Diet, which balances plant-based and traditional protein consumption. And worldwide sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives reached $29.4 billion in 2020, a number that could increase to $162 billion by 2030, Fortune reported in August.

The trend is apparent in local coffee shops, where customers want soy, oat and almond milk alternatives to traditional dairy, even if they’re not vegetarian.

While there are only a handful of Baton Rouge restaurants, such as MJ’s Cafe and Vegan Friendly Foods, still serving only vegetarian or vegan, it has become much easier for diners to find vegetarian and vegan options on menus. BLDG 5, Cocha, Chow Yum Phat, Duang Tawan Thai, Mestizo, the Bay Leaf and Swagat Indian are all awash with plant-based options, and even upscale spots aren’t an afterthought. 

This article was first published in the November 2021 issue of 225 magazine. Read the full story.