Hannah Michelle Bussa
Omaha Vegan Week launched on World Vegan Day and ran from Nov. 1-7 this year.
Kellie Osler and her husband Mike Osler are the founders of Omaha Vegan Week and the owners of Oasis Falafel in downtown Omaha.
“Omaha Vegan Week was always an idea in our heads,” she said.
When they lived in the Iowa City area, they participated in Corridor Veg Week. She said Thais Carnell created the event to expand and highlight vegan options in Eastern Iowa.
“During its first year, Mike was executive chef at Red’s Alehouse and worked with Shawn Camp, founder of the Iowa Farm Sanctuary along with her husband Jered,” she said. “Shawn and Chef Mike worked together to launch a permanent all-vegan addendum to the daily menu at Reds, and even hosted a 5-course plant-based craft beer pairing dinner, all benefiting the IFS.”
She said the original Oasis Falafel in Iowa City also participated in Corridor Veg Week.
“We knew that once we opened in Omaha, we’d want to do the same thing here,” she said.
When they first opened, she said there wasn’t time to take on the project, and then the pandemic hit.
“But in response to the Governor’s Meat on the Menu Day, we decided now was the time,” she said. “How about Veggies on the Menu Week?”
She said Omaha Vegan Week is a community event with participating restaurants featuring a new vegan special while highlighting any other vegan items regularly on their menu.
“This increases awareness for vegan and plant-based, whole food diets,” she said. “It also shows restaurants there is a growing demand for vegan and allergy-friendly foods on their menu.”
She said they have heard from people who want Omaha Vegan Week to be a month-long event, but city-wide restaurant weeks are common, so it was a good place to start for the first year.
“We wanted an inclusive event that was for everyone, not just vegans,” she said. “We didn’t want just downtown or midtown or West O, but our entire metro area. Customers benefit by getting to try new vegan features around town, but also learning about their plant-based menu options available all year round.”
In the wake of the pandemic, she said they were glad for any opportunity to help support local restaurants.
“There are a lot of restaurants that are working hard to ensure their customer base includes those who are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or have food allergies,” she said. “We want to show them support and lead by example for other restaurants who are considering adding options to their menus.”
She said she was one of the founding board members for the Iowa Farm Sanctuary, so they wanted to benefit their mission as well. Restaurants had the option of giving 10 percent of their vegan week menu sales to the sanctuary.
Kimberly and Ashish Sathyan of Kinaara Omaha participated in Vegan Week. Kinaara serves made-from-scratch Indian food that specializes in southern Indian cuisine.
“Ashish has been a chef for 17 years,” Kimberly said. “He went to culinary school in India and worked in Dubai at one of the best hotels before coming to America. We opened in February of 2020, just a month before everything shut down.”
Until May of 2021, they only served to-go meals. She said they now serve their full menu in the dining room at their location near 138th and Millard Ave. as well as a limited to-go menu ordered by phone and online.
“We participated because we wanted to highlight our vegan options,” she said. “We have unique items that every vegan should try and even the biggest carnivore would love. Our jackfruit biryani is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, vegan or otherwise.”
She said Vegan Week is important because eating plant-based, even just for a few meals a week, is world-changing.
“We would have less pollution, less animal cruelty and people would be healthier,” she said. “I think people just skim over the vegan and veg options at restaurants thinking they are not for them. At Kinaara and other restaurants we frequent, you would be missing out on some of the best meals. Putting a spotlight on them is critical because people can’t order what they don’t know about.”
She said she is grateful for Kellie Osler at Oasis for organizing Omaha Vegan Week.
Osler said the variety of restaurants was great this year and they are looking forward to adding more businesses next year.
“I’m glad to see that on our first year, with restaurants spread thin with staff shortages and rising food costs, so many owners were immediately thrilled to join the event,” she said. “We had restaurants, catering companies, and pop-ups participating.”
Eighteen restaurants participated in Omaha Vegan Week this year. Each restaurant and their menus can be found at omahaveganweek.com/2021-restaurants.
Katina Talley is the owner of Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop, another restaurant that participated in Omaha Vegan Week this year. They are a from-scratch bakery located in the Joslyn Castle neighborhood that opened in 2016. Talley said they specialized in unapologetically indulgent sweets and pastries.
“We participated in Omaha Vegan Week because we believe in both the importance of being inclusive to dietary needs and in the environmental benefit of choosing more plant-based foods,” Talley said. “We have included delicious vegan options on our menu for nearly the entire time we’ve been in business, so it was a no-brainer to join the cause!”
Talley said Omaha Vegan Week is important for increasing awareness about both the demand for and availability of plant-based foods in Omaha.
This awareness was part of the mission of Omaha Vegan Week.
“Being vegan has never been easier, especially in your home kitchen, but we want to expand more vegan options in restaurants,” Osler said. “We know that not every restaurant will go completely vegan, but we can encourage restaurants to embrace more plant-based menu items. We want chefs to know that it doesn’t have to be difficult, boring, or expensive to have vegan options. It’s not an annoyance to serve vegans or those with allergies needing modifications.”
She said they want vegan customers to have more than just a side salad with no dressing and maybe some fries when they go out to eat with family and friends.
“This is a growing, and very loyal, demographic,” she said. “If you treat them right, they’ll be a regular customer. We hope that non-vegan customers will try delicious vegan food that can broaden their horizons. They might be wowed by new ingredients and diverse flavors!”
Osler said she encourages people to research the vast knowledge on the subject from doctors and scientists.
“There is growing evidence that plant-based diets benefit our physical health and the health of the planet,” she said. “Plant-based of course meaning, the base of your diet is plants, as in real fruits and veggies. The fiber, water content, and nutrients of fresh fruits and veggies offer a great foundation for your health. Don’t just read about it, experience the benefits for yourself!”
She said eating more plants and fewer animals means better health for the planet as well. There are a variety of reasons people may choose this diet, including reducing meat consumption, being dairy-free due to allergies and being ethical vegans.
“Whatever the reason, we want to show people that it can be delicious and healthy,” she said. “We hope people will continue to educate themselves on the benefits and open their minds to a lifestyle and businesses they may not have considered before.”
Osler said this year was just about getting started.
“Our city was ready for it and ate it up, literally,” she said.
She said they have learned a lot about how to improve and grow in 2022, but right now, she is proud of what they accomplished this year.