New vegan restaurant elephant + vine increases plant-based food options in Evanston


Kara Peeler/ Daily Senior Staffer

The dining area of elephant + vine. The casual restaurant opened in March, aiming to serve “crave-worthy” vegan meals to the community.

Kara Peeler, Copy Chief

A new restaurant has arrived in town, serving up vegan food for patrons with all dietary preferences: elephant + vine. The quick-serve restaurant opened its doors at 719 Church St. on March 17.

Restaurant owner CD Young (Kellogg ’96) said she wanted to create a fast-casual sister restaurant to her other vegan restaurant, Spirit Elephant in Winnetka. 

Young transitioned to veganism more than a decade ago to help the environment and promote animal welfare, later noticing an improvement to her health. She said the lifestyle change made her want to enter the restaurant industry despite having no prior experience.

“I just thought, we have to share this with more people,” Young said. 

Young said she wanted to serve food at elephant + vine that is “crave-worthy” rather than the simple salads often seen as stereotypical vegan food. The new restaurant boasts dishes like cauliflower-based wings and wraps, grain bowls, salads and Impossible burgers.

Even on vacation, Young said she craved her restaurant’s Buffalo Chik’n sandwich, brussel sprouts side dish and strawberry milkshake.

In restaurants without a plant-based focus, vegan options can be hard to find. Evanston resident Geraldine Benz said she follows a mostly plant-based diet. Benz added that her son also has food sensitivities, which makes finding local dining options even more challenging. She said there have been times where she couldn’t find a single menu item to order. 

“It’s discouraging that there (are) not more vegan options,” Benz said. 

Walking in for the first time, Benz said she liked elephant + vine’s modern design. Weinberg senior Rachel Okine also liked the decor and plants. 

The restaurant’s decor features a neon sign emblazoned “Eat Plants, Feel Beautiful.” 

Plant-based restaurant group Wild Thing Restaurant Group, which includes elephant + vine and Spirit Elephant, adopted this phrase as its tagline to align with their core principle of plant-based eating, according to President and Chief Operating Officer James Pierson.

“It’s kind of like eating with a purpose,” Pierson said. “‘It’s feeling really good about what you’re doing, both for yourself and … the climate and animal welfare side.” 

But the restaurant doesn’t want to be exclusive to vegan customers and has designed its menu so even meat-eaters will enjoy the meal. 

Pierson said he tested many chicken sandwiches during the menu’s research and design process before the restaurant settled on its Buffalo Chik’n sandwich recipe. He said the sandwich is likely one of elephant + vine’s top-five selling dishes. 

Adam Butalewicz, the senior director of operations and development for Wild Thing’s elephant + vine division, said the restaurant focuses on making tasty vegan food more accessible rather than demanding everyone switch to a plant-based diet.

“We want people from from every walk of life to come in, even though they are still hardcore carnivores,” Butalewicz said. 

Though Okine said she enjoyed the food and the extra options as a pescatarian, she has concerns about the restaurant’s prices, which range from about $10 to $14 for a main item and about $9 for a smoothie or shake. 

“It’s nice that there is an option, but I don’t think that it’s the best option for most people,” Okine said. 

She said she would go back on occasion but not regularly because of the cost. 

Elephant + vine seeks to be involved and connect with the community, Pierson said, adding that the restaurant plans to partner with community groups to give back to Evanston. 

Butalewicz said he struggled finding places to eat vegan food, a problem he enjoys helping solve with the opening of elephant + vine because veganism is attracting more people.We would love to be a hub for (the vegan community) to be able to come in and enjoy great food and be around like-minded individuals,” he said. 

Elephant + vine will open a second location in Lincoln Park this spring.

But the team isn’t stopping there, with plans for further expansion in the works. Pierson said downtown Chicago and some western suburbs are options for future locations. 

“I know that this company is going to ultimately take plant-based food and really, really make it accessible,” Butalewicz said. “We’ve done that with Evanston here. And now, we want to continue to grow that.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @karapeeler

Related Stories:

Evanston original Lucy’s Cafe becomes Roscoe Village’s only vegetarian brunch spot

Hot from the Oven: Putting Blind Faith into plant-based food

Local women-owned bakery Hewn named among best bakeries in America