SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — A surprise check got Michelle Lyons Ehrlich into the food service business.
Now the owner of the plant-based Delicious Surprise, she is test-marketing the idea of taking her daily meal plan company to a new level — a fully vegan restaurant.
On Aug. 16, the first of several planned events drew about 50 guests to the Plant-Based Bites in the Heights event, held in a serene setting at a business co-op on the Hillsborough River.
Guests dined on sweet potato and spinach chickpea frittata; drunk chai French toast; black-eyed pea sausage with kale and white bean gravy; tropical quinoa salad; rainbow chard and squash hash; golden roasted potatoes; and assorted muffins. Basil lemonade, assorted teas, fair trade coffee and various organic toppings rounded out the buffet. Guests “donated” $12 each or $20 for two for the brunch.
Colleen Reilly, of Davis Islands, came with a friend from Seminole Heights. She had been a vegetarian “for a long time” and recently became vegan.
“This is so much more than I could ever do,” Reilly said, adding she would definitely support Ehrlich if she opened a restaurant.
“It’s hard to eat out (with friends) and I hate being the one who is difficult,” Reilly said.
Ehrlich got her start when her husband’s co-worker saw the food she packed him for lunch each day.
“A co-worker handed me a check and said, ‘Tell your wife she is going to start cooking for me,’” said Howard Ehrlich as he helped her with the brunch.
Michelle Ehrlich said they have followed a plant-based diet for 2 1/2 years, motivated by health.
“We just kept eliminating foods from our diet and felt better and better,” she said.
They prefer the term plant-based over vegan as they are more health-focused while many vegans are a lot more focused on the animals, she said.
“Most people think of vegan food as lettuce,” Howard Ehrlich said. “I eat better than anyone I know.”
Through the use of the pop-up restaurant concept — creating a temporary restaurant that opens for a finite period — Michelle Ehrlich hopes to gauge potential interest in a restaurant, while growing a wider following and getting responses to recipes.
As part of the experience, guests are asked to complete an evaluation form.
She also is strengthening her relationship with local farmers such as the Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm, which provided fresh black-eyed peas to make the sausages.
She said if the restaurant becomes a reality, she would like it to be in Seminole Heights. She said if it opens, it would be “when I find the restaurant space that can be successful.”
“If I don’t get the response I need, then this can save me from a very expensive mistake,” she added.