By Tristan Hiegler
Veg Express: A Vegetarian Drive Thru
Owner: Michelle Whittaker
Start Date: April 5
Address: 700 Ohio St., Bellingham
Phone: (360) 961-8694
The logo for Veg Express says it all: a white rabbit using two heads of lettuce for wheels. The rabbit represents the cars that pull up to the small stand on Ohio Street to grab a quick vegetarian lunch, an option they did not have before owner Michelle Whittaker set up shop.
The Veg Express stand is in a large concrete lot with lots of room for cars to pull up to order and park. A gray single-story office building sits behind it and houses several businesses as well as Whittaker’s kitchen.
Whittaker, a life-long Whatcom County resident, said the idea for a vegetarian drive thru came to her 15 years ago when she was working at a nursing home. She said she has been an off-and-on vegetarian for years and she could never find a good place to grab a quick vegetarian meal during her lunch break.
“I [didn’t] know if Bellingham was ready and I wasn’t ready to do something like this,” she said.
So she put idea on hold for awhile. She worked at her own painting business until recently when she decided that she would like a change of pace and seriously considered resurrecting that old dream of a vegetarian drive thru.
She said she found space in the building behind the stand that could serve as the kitchen where all the food is actually prepared. She found the trailer that people drive up to on Craigslist. It used to sit on Lummi Island next to the ferry terminal and Whittaker knew it would fit her needs well as soon as she saw it. She said she funded the business through use of credit and through the generosity of her friends and family.
Whittaker said that while she had some initial worries about attracting customers, but she quickly realized that hers is a niche market.
“I figure this is such its own little thing that I felt I would still get business,” she said.
And business she has received. Whittaker said her first week was busy with several repeat customers. She said she tried to put enough variety in her menu to draw people back to find out what they missed the first time through. So far the most popular items have been the Sweet Burrito, made with sweet potatoes and black beans, the Big Cheese, a grilled cheese with sprouts, tomatoes and avocado and the Spicy Black Bean Burrito with avocado.
“People are very grateful and appreciative that they have somewhere to go,” she said of her customers.
Whittaker said the benefits of eating vegetarian include reducing one’s impact on the environment, preventing animal suffering and improving one’s health.
Whittaker said the mass farms produce a lot of animal waste and take up many resources in order to feed livestock. She said the grain used to feed a cow so it could become a single steak could feed several people instead.
She said many of the animals destined to become meat items in the grocery store are treated cruelly and kept in poor conditions. She said this kind of practice is why she personally practices vegetarianism.