Sarma Melngailis

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Sarma Melngailis
Born (1972-09-10) September 10, 1972 (age 51)
CitizenshipAmerican, Latvian
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania (BS, BA)
French Culinary Institute
Known for
Restaurateur (2001–2015),
Fugitive, convicted of fraud (2015–2017)
Anthony Strangis
(m. 2012; div. 2018)
Culinary career
Cooking styleVegan, Raw foodism
Previous restaurant(s)
    • Commissary, New York City (2001–2003),
      * Pure Food and Wine, New York City (2004–2016),
      * One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway, New York City (2007–2015),
      * One Lucky Duck, Chelsea Market, New York City (2009–2015),
      * One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway, San Antonio, Texas (2014–2016)

Sarma Melngailis (born September 10, 1972)[1] is an American chef, cookbook author, and businesswoman. She was the owner and co-founder of Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck, both vegan raw food restaurants in New York City.[2][3] Melngailis' restaurant appeared in New York Magazine's Top 100 Restaurants round up, and made it into Forbes' list of All Star New York Eateries for five consecutive years.[4] Both businesses closed in 2016 after staff walked out over unpaid wages. After fleeing New York, Melngailis was tracked down in Tennessee and arrested for fraud in 2016. She was convicted in 2017.

Early life and education[edit]

Sarma Melngailis was born September 10, 1972, in the United States, and was raised in Newton, Massachusetts.[1] Melngailis's father John Melngailis was born in Riga, Latvia and was a physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[5][6] Her early interest in food came from her mother, a professional chef. Her parents divorced when she was nine years old.[6]

She attended Newton North High School.[7] Melngailis graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 with a B.A. degree, and a B.S. degree in economics from the Wharton School.[3]

Melngailis moved to New York City, working at the investment firm Bear Stearns until 1996, then moving to Bain Capital in Boston, working in private equity investment.[3] She returned to New York City in 1998 and joined a high-yield investment fund at CIBC, but soon left to enroll at New York's French Culinary Institute[2] from which she graduated in 1999.[1]


Salsify noodles with radicchio and fresh figs, a dish from Pure Food & Wine in 2013
Wine server from Pure Food & Wine in 2013

Together with chef, author, and speaker Matthew Kenney, her then-boyfriend,[8][9] she opened Commissary in 2001, but it closed in March 2003, after which she consulted for Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill Management.[1]

In June 2004, Melngailis with Chodorow and Kenney, opened Pure Food and Wine as New York City's first upscale raw food restaurant.[1][10][11][12][13] Located in Manhattan's Gramercy Park neighborhood, the restaurant was listed twice in New York magazine's "Top 100 Restaurants" and in "The Platt 101"[14] and five years in a row in Forbes magazine's list of "All Star New York Eateries."[15] In 2009, Melngailis believed that Kenney gave inadequate attention to the financial side of the Pure Food and Wine operation; Chodorow, taken by the strength of her business school and financial background, expelled Kenney from the operation and lent Melngailis US$2.1 million to buy the business outright.[16][17] The Pure Food and Wine restaurant closed in spring 2016.[18]

The trio opened One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway in 2007,[19] a takeaway retail store attached to Pure Food and Wine. The website, launched in 2005, was an online store for snacks prepared and packaged from Pure Food and Wine, as well as ingredients, skincare, supplements, books, apparel, and home products, all related to raw and organic living. A second One Lucky Duck location was open in New York City's Chelsea Market from December 2009 through January 2015.[20]

From 2014 until July 2016, One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway operated in San Antonio, Texas, the first location outside of New York City.[21][22]


In January 2015, Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck staff walked out en masse due to Melngailis' failure to pay employees a month's worth of owed wages.[23] This was the second time within a year that a month's worth of wages had been withheld, the first being in July 2014.[24]

Melngailis addressed the walkout and subsequent closure of both restaurants in a blog post posted in February 2015.[25] She apologized for the incident, but later deleted the post. In an interview with Well+Good, Melngailis stated that the delayed wages were due to slim margins caused by debts and expensive ingredients, and that she had also previously missed her own rent payments.[26] During the ordeal, Melngailis provided employees with a different explanation, blaming the situation on changing banks.[27]

In April 2015, Pure Food and Wine, One Lucky Duck, and reopened.[28] A majority of staff did not return to the restaurant after its reopening.[29] In July of that year, the staff of both restaurants walked out due to unpaid wages. Both establishments have been permanently shut down.[30]

Arrest and guilty plea[edit]

On May 12, 2016, it was reported that Melngailis and her then-husband Anthony Strangis[31] were arrested in Sevierville, Tennessee, after he ordered a pizza from Domino's Pizza. The couple were staying in separate hotel rooms.[32]

It has been reported that "In addition to the fugitive from justice warrants, Strangis was wanted for grand larceny, scheme to defraud and violation of labor law. Melngailis was wanted for grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, scheme to defraud and violation of labor law."[31][33][34]

On December 19, 2016, prosecutors offered Melngailis a plea deal in which she would agree to serve one to three years in prison.[35] Melngailis' attorneys were reported by Vanity Fair to be planning a "coercive control" defense.[36]

Melngailis pleaded guilty in May 2017 to stealing more than $2,000,000 from investors, and scheming to defraud, as well as criminal tax fraud charges. She received a jail sentence of nearly four months.[37] She filed for divorce from Strangis in May 2018.[38]

The 2022 Netflix documentary series Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. details Melngailis' scandals, including her relationship with Strangis and her financial crimes.[39] Melngailis disputes the veracity of the series and its conclusions citing numerous misrepresentations of her story in an attempt to heighten drama, particularly in the show’s final minutes.[40]


  • Commissary, New York City (2001–2003),
  • Pure Food and Wine, New York City (2004–2016),
  • One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway, New York City (2007–2015),
  • One Lucky Duck, Chelsea Market, New York City (2009–2015),
  • One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway, San Antonio, Texas (2014–2016)


  • Kenney, Matthew; Melngailis, Sarma (2005). Raw Food for the Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow. Regan Books. ISBN 0060793554.[41][42]
  • Melngailis, Sarma (2009). Living Raw Food: Get the Glow with More Recipes from Pure Food and Wine. New York City, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN 9780061940491.


  1. ^ a b c d e Duecy, Erica (August 9, 2004). "Sarma Melngailis: ex-financier uses raw talent in the kitchen". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Miller, Jenny (December 11, 2009). "Chatting With Sarma Melngailis of Pure Food and Wine: Raw Food, Criticism From Vegan Purists, and Global Expansion". Fork in the road. Village Voice. Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Frakes, Julia (March 30, 2009). "Spring Cleaning With... Sarma Melngailis". Paper Magazine. Archived from the original on February 14, 2010. Retrieved December 16, 2009. University of Pennsylvania (where she earned a B.A on top of her B.S. in Economics from Wharton)
  4. ^ Biggs, Jade (March 15, 2022). "Where is Sarma Melngailis – of Netflix's newest true crime doc – now?". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  5. ^ Salkin, Allen (March 17, 2022). "Sarma Melngailis, Netflix's "Bad Vegan," Stares Down Her Past—And Future". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Felbin, Sarah (March 18, 2022). "Here's How 'Bad Vegan' Sarma Melngailis' Mom Fell For Anthony Strangis' Scam". Women's Health. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  7. ^ "How Sarma Melngailis, Queen of Vegan Cuisine, Became a Runaway Fugitive". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. November 3, 2016. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  8. ^ Felsenthal, Julia (January 25, 2016). "Chef Matthew Kenney on the Plant-Based Revolution Coming Soon to a City Near You". Vogue. Retrieved May 13, 2016. In 2004 Matthew Kenney and his then girlfriend, Sarma Melngailis, opened Pure Food and Wine...
  9. ^ Fabricant, Florence (October 12, 2005). "Owner and Manager In Dispute With Chef". New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  10. ^ Fabricant, Florence (October 12, 2005). "Owner and Manager in Dispute With Chef". The New York Times. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  11. ^ Meredith Bryan (January 13, 2010). "A Rough Time in Smoothie World: Raw-Food Queen Scuffles With Chelsea Market". Observer. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  12. ^ Jenny Miller (December 11, 2009). "Chatting With Sarma Melngailis of Pure Food and Wine: Raw Food, Criticism From Vegan Purists, and Global Expansion". Village Voice. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  13. ^ Fabricant, Florence (June 16, 2004). "Food Stuff; Off the Menu". New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  14. ^ Platt, Adam (December 29, 2005). "The Platt 101: Best New York Restaurants for 2006". New York Magazine. 84: Pure Food and Wine
  15. ^ Steve Forbes (December 4, 2008). "The Forbes 2008 All-Star Eateries in New York: Three Stars". Forbes. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  16. ^ Chris Smith (director, co-executive producer), Amanda Griffin (editor) (2022). Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (ep. 1) (Docu-series). Library Films Productions. Event occurs at 12:33 to 14:33.
  17. ^ Fabricant, Florence (October 12, 2005). "Owner and Manager in Dispute With Chef". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  18. ^ LeGardye, Quinci (March 21, 2022). "You Can Order From the Restaurant From 'Bad Vegan' This Weekend". Marie Claire Magazine. Retrieved April 26, 2022. restaurant closed permanently in the spring of 2016
  19. ^ "I am One Lucky Duck: One Lucky Duck juice and takeaway review". vegan victuals. September 10, 2009.
  20. ^ Florence Fabricant (October 29, 2009). "Off the Menu: New Kiosks at Chelsea Market". The New York Times. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  21. ^ "NEW JUICE BAR IN… TEXAS!". September 26, 2013. Archived from the original on April 30, 2015.
  22. ^ Fechter, Joshua (July 7, 2016). "Unlucky Duck: San Antonio juice bar One Lucky Duck closes after vegan founder arrested". mySA. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  23. ^ Ferst, Devra (January 13, 2015). "Union Square's Pure Food & Wine Currently Closed, After Staff Walks Out En Masse". Eater.
  24. ^ Casey, Nell (January 13, 2015). "Pure Food And Wine Employees Walk Out Over Unpaid Wages". Gothamist. Archived from the original on February 11, 2015.
  25. ^ Melingailis, Sarma (February 8, 2015). "WHAT HAPPENED?". Archived from the original on February 9, 2015.
  26. ^ Held, Lisa Elaine (February 10, 2015). "Exclusive: Sarma Melngailis opens up about what's going on at Pure Food and Wine". Well+Good. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  27. ^ Preston, Marguerite (January 16, 2015). "What's Going On at Pure Food & Wine, Where Staff Remains Unpaid and Owner Is MIA". Eater NY.
  28. ^ "WE'RE BACK: ONE LUCKY DUCK IS OPEN!". One Lucky Duck. May 4, 2015. Archived from the original on June 5, 2015.
  29. ^ Tishgart, Sierra (April 30, 2015). "How a Prominent Restaurant Owner Is Bouncing Back After a Public Staff Exodus". Grub Street.
  30. ^ ""Bad Vegan": Is Pure Food and Wine Still Open Today?". Newsweek. March 17, 2022. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  31. ^ a b "Fugitive restaurateur who championed raw food caught, charged". CBS News Crimesider. May 13, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  32. ^ "Latvian American celebrity vegan betrayed by cheesy pizza". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. May 16, 2016. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  33. ^ "2 New York fugitives arrested in Sevierville". WATE 6. May 11, 2016. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  34. ^ "Owner of Vegan Food Business and her Husband Indicted for Allegedly Stealing from Employees, Defrauding Investors, not Paying Taxes". The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. May 12, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  35. ^ Avila, Theresa (December 20, 2016). "Prosecutors Offer Plea Deal to the Vegan Restaurateur Facing Grand-Larceny Charges". New York Magazine. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  36. ^ Salkin, Allen (March 2, 2017). "Why Sarma Melngailis, the "Vegan Fugitive," Is Using a "Gaslighting" Defense". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  37. ^ Tempey, Nathan (May 10, 2017). "Fugitive Pleads Guilty To Fleecing Staffers, Investors". Gothamist. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  38. ^ Bekiempis, Victoria (May 8, 2018). "Vegan fraudster Sarma Melngailis files for divorce from estranged husband after $1 million restaurant scam". New York Daily News.
  39. ^ Dray, Kayleigh (September 27, 2021). "Netflix's Bad Vegan is the true crime series of your dreams". Stylist. Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  40. ^ Melngailis, Sarma. "BAD VEGAN IS NOT A DOCUMENTARY". Sarma RAW. Retrieved April 17, 2022.
  41. ^ Black, Rosemary (August 24, 2005). "What's cooking? Nothing". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 16, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  42. ^ Powell, Julie (September 14, 2005). "No Heat Doesn't Mean No Sweat". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 26, 2022.

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