Cowtown Changing? Vegetarian Restaurants Get A Seat At The Table In Fort Worth

August 4, 2021

When Kelli Myatt first transitioned to a plant-based diet in 2001, she had to do a lot of explaining.
“I was caught off-guard by that. I had to become very defensive about my lifestyle, and I didn’t like it,” she recalled.

Kelli Myatt at the counter of Healthy Hippie Cafe. The restaurant serves healthy plant-based foods – an extension of Myatt’s detox program. (Courtesy: Kelli Myatt, Instagram)

About 20 years later at age 54, Myatt runs a vegetarian restaurant focused on healthy food. Rather than feeling isolated in her lifestyle, she has found a community searching for like-minded vegetable lovers near Cowtown.

A survey shows Fort Worth now has more than eight exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Fort Worth. Many restaurants have expanded their plant-based options into their regular menus. Even Stockyard staples are offering vegetarian options.

“You can get a veggie burger at Billy Bob’s now!” Amy McNutt, founder of Spiral Diner, said. “So, that’s pretty crazy.”

Myatt’s restaurant, The Healthy Hippie Cafe, is just north of Fort Worth in Watauga. The Cafe is nestled on the second floor of a strip mall overlooking a heavily wooded area. Myatt said it often feels like a treehouse inside the restaurant. She recently expanded to add a bar and live music venue inside the store.

While working as a flight attendant, she got started by creating free plant-based meals and lifestyle plans for friends and family. The meal plans led to a booth at the farmers market where long lines encouraged her to dream big and consider opening up a restaurant.

“I didn’t have the capital, didn’t have much money at all, and it all just really happened organically,” Myatt said.

VegNews recently identified Fort Worth and Dallas as a growing vegan destination, mentioning Healthy Hippie Cafe as an up-and-coming plant-based spot.

Changing culinary landscape

Spiral Diner is a veteran of the vegan food scene of North Texas. Since opening a small lunch counter 19 years ago, the popular vegan comfort food spot has opened locations in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth. Now, they have plans to expand in Fort Worth.

The spot will be a part of a new development in Near Southside. Founder Amy McNutt said they will expand to two new locations with new concepts. The first, Maiden, will offer elevated vegan food. The second location, Dreamboat Doughnuts, will focus on vegan doughnuts.

“There’s nothing like that in Fort Worth, so that’ll just be a nice little spot for the neighborhood to have,” McNutt said.

When Spiral first opened a tiny lunch counter downtown in 2002, the vegan scene in Fort Worth was very different. The restaurant always had consistent business, but there were years early on when business was slow, McNutt explained.

“Then I’d say just within the last like five years, there has been an insane amount of growth,” McNutt said. “There are times when we’re just so busy we have to turn people away because there’s just literally not enough tables.”

Five years ago, McNutt said, she would have been worried about competition five years ago. Now, she knows there are plenty of seats at the table.

“It can grow as fast as people can get the places open,” McNutt said. “There’s enough for everyone.”

Myatt’s priority is healthy foods. Focusing on health attracts people who aren’t exclusively plant-based, she said.

“The population is definitely more receptive and also open to trying something new,” compared to 20 years ago, she said. “I’d say 70{bd1a3fb8a267bf65dee3fa7bd5bef83d11dd7659b283768a0375222e95be74bd} of our customers are not plant-based. They just search ‘healthy near me’ or ‘organic near me,’ and we pop up.”

Myatt said her business has benefited from young people moving to the area from coastal cities looking for plant-based options. She finds that community at outreach events like the Keller Lantern Festival, where new residents can discover their booth and get a taste of their food.

Myatt is a health-focused vegan, rather than an ethical vegan. She thinks focusing on the health aspects of the diet makes it more accessible. (Courtesy: Kelli Myatt, Instagram)

“A lot of people who are moving in, they stumble upon us, and they just are so excited,” Myatt said.

Healthy Hippie Cafe does face challenges. Myatt has yet to turn a profit on the restaurant. The organic ingredients she exclusively buys are usually more expensive and can’t be bought in bulk.

She also struggles with the city of Watauga understanding her eco-friendly approach to business. She recently settled a conflict over compost bins, which she gets picked up by a “They’ve kind of fought me on everything here in Watauga. I have to just smile and go … ‘Bless their hearts,’ they just don’t know,” Myatt said.

A sign showing the daily offerings at Healthy Hippie Cafe in Watauga (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

But Myatt is fine with educating them. She wants her cafe to be a resource for people curious about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

“We’re here for the community,” she said. “It would be nice at some point that my husband, and I would see profit … but we walk the walk. We’re not just here to run a business — we serve.”


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