8 Jun

New York City’s GustOrganics major overhaul led to trouble

by Aimee Batuski

The story of GustOrganics

As a broke college student at Fordham University in Manhattan, Kelsey Adami, “Kiki”, was desperate for a job. Without an extensive professional resume she went in search of a waitressing job to pay the bills. As a strict raw vegan, Kiki was hoping to snag a position at a trendy plant-based establishment somewhere in the city; like Peacefood Cafe, Blossom, Sacred Chow or Candle Cafe. Unfortunately none of her favorite plant-based businesses were hiring so she found the next best thing: a fully organic restaurant, GustOrganics.

GustOrganics aka “GustO”, is located between 13th and 14th street on the Avenue of the Americas and was founded in 2008 by Alberto Gonzalez. In the early years GustO was well-known for its organic, sustainable menu and grass-fed beef. It was a Paleo dieters paradise.

Being an environmentalist vegan, Kiki was completely against the notion that any restaurant serving animal products could be considered sustainable. She didn’t hide her dissatisfaction and was quick to share her feedback with management.  Luckily for Kiki, one of the managers at the time, Paul, had a crush on her and was willing to keep her around despite her bold attempts at convincing GustO’s customers that their Paleo oriented (animal-based) food choices weren’t up to par.

GustOrganicsKiki eventually left GustOrganics and decided to move to Argentina, where she lived for many years. When she returned to New York, fate struck and Kiki began to seriously date Paul and became involved with Gust Organics once again. Paul was now the owner of GustO and with Kiki’s influence, the restaurant officially took on Meatless Mondays last July. Kiki and Paul quickly realized the disappointing reality that their Paleo customer base was not interested in the meatless meals they were serving.

Seeing that 60% of their profit came from sales of animal-based protein, it was a bold move to offer meatless meals. Unfortunately, Kiki and Paul had many tables walk out of their restaurant and they started to lose money.

This didn’t phase Kiki. She stuck to her gut and continued the long process of veganizing GustOrganics. In tandem, Kiki continued to educate Paul on this way of life by introducing him to movies such as Cowspiracy and Earthlings. She knew that informing him about the many environmental, ethical, and nutritional benefits of a plant-based/vegan diet would be imperative to making major strides for the business. Paul finally announced himself as vegan this past September. Since then, everything has changed.

IMG_2257Together, the couple began brainstorming effective ways to remove meat dishes from the menu and add more plant-based options without scaring away the regulars. This created road block after road block. Not only were regular customers outraged, but the vegan community was reluctant to support their efforts because they didn’t stop serving animal products right off the bat. They were struggling with brand identity and it showed.

This passionate and determined team was losing money fast. Their unhappy customers were taking out their disappointment on the staff and moral at GustOrganics quickly faded.

Determined to make GustO flourish as a fully vegan, sustainable and organic restaurant; the couple never gave up, but are now in risk of closing.  GustOrganics is still not turning a profit. They are in major debt and need support.

Please share and get your NYC based friends and family in to support their business!

Editors Note 8-7-15: GustOrganics will be closing their doors this month.


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