TRINITY — Michele Fasnacht said she walked with a cane, felt numbness in her hands and was legally blind. That was until she cut out dairy products.
She had stopped eating animals except for shellfish since she cried at 13 years old after she discovered her step-father had fed her a venison burger. But the decision to cut out all animal products was different.
She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and lupus, she said, and her quality of life was deteriorating. Around that time, she watched a video about how dairy cows were treated and decided she couldn’t drink milk anymore. Within a day, she said, her symptoms began to lift.
Fasnacht became an advocate for plant-based diets, which means eating mostly plants and no animal products. But anytime she wanted to get a good vegan meal, she had to drive an hour from her home in Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. She joked about the long drive until her husband, Eric, suggested they should open their own restaurant.
“I never wanted to own a restaurant,” she said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
On July 10, their plant-based cafe Green Culture opened in Trinity, which is the first of its kind in Pasco County, Michele Fasnacht said.
Its grand opening will be Sept. 7 and 8. Eric Fasnacht chose the location because its close to where they live and also near the private school, Solid Rock Community School, that Michele Fasnacht founded. He also picked it because Pasco was an underserved community, he said.
Green Culture is at 1420 Seven Springs Boulevard, which is in the same plaza where Fasnacht said she goes grocery shopping and to the salon. It’s a fast-casual restaurant, where a customer orders at the register, and food is brought to their table.
It was designed with franchising in mind, and Fasnacht said that she and her husband are considering opening another location.
Green Culture differs from St. Petersburg and Tampa vegan spots that typically are sit-down, full-service restaurants, Fasnacht said. Green Culture provides a more grab-and-go service.
The menu is large and can be overwhelming at a first glance. It includes coffee beverages, pressed juices, smoothies, sweet bowls, loaded bagels, veggie burgers, impossible-meat burgers, “chicken” bites, harvest bowls, baked goods and more. A lot of the recipes are Fasnacht’s own.
She’s seen customers from all over Pasco County and even people driving from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando counties to try her food, she said. Sometimes a curious meat-eater wanders in to see what it’s about.
“I cannot believe all the vegan and plant-based people here," she said.
Fasnacht said one of the main focuses of the restaurant is educating customers about plant-based diets and their benefits. The couple also wants to warn people about the environmental impacts of the meat industry, they said.
Michele Fasnacht is vice-chair of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Plant Based Nutrition Movement, which was started after she met other plant-based people at a VegFest in Tampa last year. The group is working to change its name to focus more on lifestyle and then plans to file as a nonprofit.
Other members include Dr. Koushik Reddy, who is the organization’s chairman and a cardiologist at James A. Haley VA Medical Center, and his wife, Dr. Angela Persaud-Reddy, who specializes in internal medicine. The couple cooks with no animal products or oil and tries to teach their patients about living healthier.
Koushik Reddy said he’s seeing more people become vegan in the area, but they’re not always adopting it in a healthy way. Some people still drink soda and eat cookies without consuming animal products.
If the plant-based diet is adopted more fully, Reddy said, he has seen people reverse medical conditions and become more energized. A person can get all the nutritional benefits they need just from plants and by taking a B-12 vitamin, he said.
Even though the couple eats most of their meals at home, seeing vegan restaurants like Fasnacht’s open in Pasco County show a change in the local culture and mindset, he said.
“These are not things that are a fad,” he said. “We have to be disciplined and be mindful about getting these things right.”
Contact Paige Fry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @paigexfry.