Vegan Restaurants per Capita

This post was updated on May 31 as a result of a discussion in the comments section.

I just spent a magical weekend in vegan wonderland. I was surrounded by great food and people who really “get” veganism. It made me think a lot about what it means for a place to be vegan-friendly. Is it the vegan community? The food options? Understanding and accommodation by the larger community?

One thing in particular I was curious about was the density of vegan restaurants in cities. Was New York really the capital of vegan restaurants as one person told me? So I put together a table with the U.S. 2012 Census estimates for the top 50 cities by population and listings of vegan restaurants in Happy Cow. And the results were both expected and surprising.

How the numbers were calculated

For population, I used the U.S. 2012 Census estimates from Wikipedia. Large cities close together were counted as a metro area with the exception of DFW, which was counted both individually and as a metro area. For vegan restaurants, I went strictly by what was under the vegan category on Happy Cow. That means that my hometown of Austin has six vegan restaurants because Capital City Bakery and Sweet Ritual are counted as a bakery and a grocery store (weird category, that), not as vegan restaurants.

The overal city score is given as number of restaurants per million people. It’s a bit of an odd way to do it, since more than half of these cities have less than a million people, but it makes the numbers much easier to compare one against another. As Pete points out in the comments below, this is pretty inexact. The U.S. census is using very defined borders whereas I’m using much broader geographic terms in the Happy Cow search.

And the winner is . . . ?

While New York City has the second greatest total number of vegan restaurants with 57 (only beat out by the Los Angeles metro area with 68), it’s beat out by fifteen other cities and metro areas in vegan restaurants per capita. The city with the highest rating is Portland with a score of 38.1, followed by Seattle (33.1),  San Francisco metro area (21.2), Atlanta (18.0), and Miami (16.9).

The largest city with only a single vegan eatery is San Antonio, with a score of 0.7. The largest city without a single vegan restaurant is Indianapolis (there’s a business opportunity for an aspiring vegan restaurant owner). El Paso, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, Raleigh, Omaha, and Wichita also have no vegan restaurants.

For cities with just one or two vegan restaurants, they’re most likely to be a Loving Hut, a raw food restaurant, or a small cafe inside a health food store.

A vegan BBQ plate that looks like it belongs in Texas but actually comes from Homegrown Smoker in Portland, OR. Y'all, we live in a mixed up crazy world.

Texas

Is Texas a particularly hard state be vegan in? A little. Seven of the largest U.S. cities are in Texas, and from most dense to least they rank Dallas (7.3), Austin (7.1), DFW (4.6), Houston (3.2),  Arlington (2.7), Fort Worth (1.3), San Antonio (0.7), and El Paso (0). Personally, I think about 5 restaurants per million people (i.e., a score of 5) is a good place to aim for, and yet only two Texas cities make that cut. If you want to open a vegan business in Texas, it looks like Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso are severely underserved.

Things that surprised me

No one talks much about Miami (except Lazy Smurf), but it comes in with a fairly high score of 16.9. It looks like a great place to mix nightlife, eating, and beach time for a vacation. Atlanta (18.0) also has a good number of vegan restaurants for its size. On the other hand, I’ve always thought of Minneapolis as a great city to be vegan in, yet they only have one vegan restaurant for a city of almost 400,000 people.

In the end, I think we could spend countless hours analyzing these numbers. There are certainly some shortfalls. Perhaps a city doesn’t have many vegan restaurant, but instead has a huge number of vegan-friendly vegetarian restaurants. Or maybe a city has a really accommodating culture, and you can expect to find a good vegan meal at any restaurant in the city. Or cities without a robust restaurant culture might have thriving vegan potluck and social groups.

9 thoughts on “Vegan Restaurants per Capita

  1. This is a very cool idea, but I’m a tad confused on your math. There are 7 vegan restaurants in Oakland, not 27. And Portland has 20 places, not 23. Those were the only two I looked at, but you may want to look at your numbers again. :/

  2. Wait, I see what you did there. You searched for each city on the site, which brought up a map. The listings on the map go by a radius, not city limits. When you search “Oakland”, it not only brings up that city, but also other places in the Bay Area like Berkeley and the northeastern edge of San Francisco. Thus, a place like Oakland gets super-inflated. Instead, you should use the browse function. http://www.happycow.net/north_america/usa/

    Even that might be tricky, though. For instance, let’s look at Boston, whose geography is ridiculously complicated. To make a long story short, besides the central core of the city, there are both distinctive neighborhoods and independent cities that all essentally function as one compact urban unit – and they all have their own Happy Cow pages. Cambridge, Somerville, and Allston should, by any reasonable measure, all be included. (There are also other similar areas, but they don’t have any vegan listings.) So, maybe using the radius function might be better for a city like that, but it would be weird making one sole exception. I’d leave it up to you.

    Anyway, I would at least go over it again using the browse function for individual cities. It’ll be interesting to see what differences you find. I know doing this over is a huge pain – and I apologize for burdening you with this knowledge – but it’s kind of necessary. I know you’re not a scientist, but accuracy is still important regardless.

  3. Arrggghhh….OK, one last comment, and then I’ll leave.

    I was thinking about it some more, and I realized what the central problem is with this: You’re counting vegan restaurants one way, and people another.

    Census-defined metro areas or city limits are very well-defined and thus great ways to count people. Using the radius function on Happy Cow is a (mostly) great way to count restaurants, because it’s all about proximity. However, mixing the two creates problems. They don’t overlap the way they need to. The restaurants you are counting are not within the same defined area in which you are counting the population.

    All of this information gives us a basic understanding of how vegan-friendly an area is, which is fine, but trying to be scientific about it – with rankings and all – is folly. You can’t be as accurate as you need to be given the data available.

  4. I get what you’re saying. I think it’s still useful in that it shows how much there is in a city like Miami, which is undervalued, versus a city like New York, which is at least partly overvalued. I’ll have to look at this some more and give it more thought. Thanks for the feedback, Pete.

  5. I read the bit about Miami “No one talks much about Miami” and as the words “What the F*** I talk about Miami all the time” were forming in my mind I saw the exception LOL. What I don’t understand is how New York wins when LA has more with 68? Did I miss something numbers are not my strong point.

    Despite that I thought this was a fascinating post and I think your numbers are close enough. I mean it’s not like a few thousand people one way or another is going to make a big difference. Hopefully vegan scientists can work this out in the future. As a taco scientist, I will leave that to my distinguished colleagues.

    • Whoops. I missed updating that when I switched from individual cities to metro areas. Los Angeles metro does have more restaurants than NYC.

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