Sarma Melngailis had something revolutionary on her hands when she co-founded Pure Food and Wine with Matthew Kenney. The fine-dining vegan restaurant took off in popularity soon after it was opened in 2004. But after a decade in the business, Sarma suddenly went off the grid and was eventually arrested for fraud. The restaurant’s rising stocks plummeted amidst controversy regarding employees’ unpaid wages.
Netflix’s ‘Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.’ delves into Sarma’s relationship with her then-husband, Anthony Strangis, and how she funneled money from the business to him. So, if you’re wondering how much the restaurant made and what happened to that money, here’s what we know.
How Did Sarma Melngailis Earn Her Money?
Sarma didn’t start her career in the food industry. She received her economics degree from the prestigious Wharton School in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. After working for a couple of investment firms, Sarma realized that food was her true calling and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York, graduating in 1999. About two years later, her connection with chef Matthew Kenney, who was also her boyfriend at the time, led to them opening a restaurant called the Commissary in 2001.
While that closed about two years later, Sarma and Matthew joined hands with investor Jeffrey Chodorow to open Pure Food and Wine in Manhattan, New York, in 2004. The restaurant was known for its vegan raw food menu and quickly became a celebrity hotspot, having visits from actors, athletes, and supermodels. The restaurant was considered ahead of its time with unique high-end vegan offerings.
Pure Food and Wine was consistently featured in various publications like the New York Magazine and Forbes as one of the best restaurants in New York. Soon, Sarma began expanding her business by setting up One Lucky Duck, a vegan juice bar, and an online store with the same name that sold snacks and food prepared at Pure Food and Wine. The expansion was successful, with Sarma opening two other outlets for One Lucky Duck — one in Chelsea Park, New York, and another in San Antonio, Texas.
Apart from that, Sarma also wrote two books on raw vegan food titled ‘Raw Food/Real World’ and ‘Living Raw Food.’ As per the show, while debt was something the business had to think about because of the investors that put in money, the restaurant was on its way to profitability. At one point, Pure Food and Wine was making $7 million in gross sales per year. But all of that quickly fell apart by 2016, with employees walking out over unpaid wages and Sarma getting arrested with her husband for fraud.
Sarma Melngailis’ Net Worth Before She Went to Jail
Sarma’s profitable ventures quickly closed down one by one after her arrest, putting her in debt. But before she went to prison, Sarma’s net worth was close to $1.5 million. However, as per the show, she now owes over $6 million to her investors, employees, and others.
How Much Money Did Sarma Melngailis Send to Anthony Strangis?
Sarma and Anthony met online sometime in 2011, marrying towards the end of the following year. But by the time they were arrested, the authorities believed that Sarma had transferred close to $1.6 million from the business to her personal account, with Anthony gambling away $1.2 million. Not just that, both of them spent about $150,000 on luxury watches and trips across Europe. Eventually, both were sentenced to short stints in prison, followed by probation for their actions.
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