This ‘twisted tale of love turned criminal’ is a four-part documentary showcasing a New York restaurateur’s fall from grace.
Netflix has been leading the charge when it comes to vegan content in recent years, with documentaries like The Game Changers, and Seaspiracy, and the climate change feature film Don’t Look Up proving huge hits.
When you consider one of the streaming service’s other enormously successful genres is true crime, it makes a lot of sense that it’s combining plant-based living and criminals in its ‘scandalous’ upcoming series Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.
The four-part documentary, which debuts on March 16, tells the story of Pure Food and Wine restaurateur Sarma Melngailis, once known as the ‘raw vegan queen’, and later, less flatteringly, ascribed the moniker the ‘vegan Bernie Madoff’ after she drained $2 million from her business to put into her personal accounts, and ended up going on the run owing money to her staff and investors.
So what prompted her downfall? Netflix’s description of the story as a ‘twisted tale of love turned criminal’ pins the blame firmly on Melngailis’ bad marriage.
Love turned criminal
Melngailis (who dated and co-founded Pure Food and Wine alongside vegan chef Matthew Kenney) was well-known as the owner of the high-end Manhattan raw vegan eatery, which she headed up for more than ten years between 2004 and 2015.
The successful outlet was a celebrity magnet, attracting high-profile diners including Woody Harrelson, and Alec Baldwin among others. Actor Owen Wilson was seen casually walking through the kitchen on multiple occasions, according to the trailer.
Then, Melngailis met Shane Fox on Twitter in 2011. And she started making some really bad business decisions.
“[Bad Vegan] explores how…Melngailis…went from being the queen of vegan cuisine to being known as the ‘Vegan Fugitive’,” Netflix revealed in a press release.
The streamer added that soon after meeting Fox, Melngailis began ‘draining her restaurant’s funds and funneling the money to Fox’.
But why would she destroy the business she must have worked so hard to create?
“He conned her into believing he could make her dreams—from expanding her food empire to making her beloved pitbull immortal—a reality…but only if she continued to obey his every request without question,” explains Netflix.
After taking the money, the couple—who had married—went on the lam for nearly a year, before they were found holed up in a Tennessee motel by law enforcement.
Caught out by a Dominos pizza
If the story so far wasn’t bizarre enough, the way the outlaw pair finally got caught adds an extra twist: cops tracked the couple down by following a charge made under Fox’s real name, Anthony Strangis—for a Domino’s pizza, using Melngailis’ credit card.
Melngailis says she did not eat the pizza, and indeed maintained a vegan diet. The police report corroborates this. The couple kept separate rooms at the hotel, and the pizza was found in Strangis’ room.
Veganism is the movie’s device (what Hitchcock called “The MacGuffin”)—but it’s got nothing to do with the plot. Still, it won’t likely be long before pundits find a way to blame tofu and kale for the couple’s downfall.
The story certainly has all the elements of a surefire hit, but is the series in good hands? It appears so: Chris Smith, who directed Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened and executive produced Tiger King has created the series.
Netflix fans and vegan haters alike will undoubtedly approve.
Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. premieres March 16 on Netflix.