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
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.
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.