New vegan food tour comes to Spring Street

Bon Banh Mi salad. Wade Spees/Staff Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Charleston’s reputation for exceptional food doesn’t hold much sway with visiting vegetarians, who’ve often heard horror stories about lard swirled into butter and beans cooked down with ham hocks.

Two Charlestonians are now trying to correct tourists’ misapprehensions about local plant-based cuisine with a walking tour, offered every Saturday afternoon. Under the name The Kale Whale, Erin Whalen and Schanen Smith have strung together sampling visits to four or five restaurants in the vicinity of Spring and President streets.

“One of the biggest reasons we wanted to put this together is we wanted to bring attention to vegan dishes, and bring awareness to the fact that people are interested in having these options,” Smith says. “So maybe restaurants will take the chance.” Meaning, the restaurant marketer wouldn’t mind seeing more animal product-free dishes on local menus, even though she’s not a strict vegetarian.

As Smith suggests, the intended audience for the program isn’t exclusively out-of-towners: Smith and Whalen are more generally interested in promoting personal and global health through increased vegetable consumption.

To really make their mark on the first score, the tour leaders initially envisioned leading participants at a brisk pace through the neighborhood. But after a friends-and-family trial tour, they conceded that most enthusiastic eaters don’t want to raise their heart rates between restaurants.

“People are kind of leisurely,” Smith says.

The tour begins at the all-vegan Gnome Café (“obviously,” Smith says), then continues to Bon Banh Mi. For the group’s third stop, Fuel is wrapping its black bean burgers in lettuce leaves; Smith doesn’t want participants to fill up on bread. After touring The Veggie Bin, the group moves to Parlor Deluxe for carrot dogs, then finishes at Warehouse.

“We wanted this to be our ending spot because there are games and drinks,” Smith says. “And chef Emily (Hahn) is so on board with this.”

Tickets to the tour, which runs from 2:30 p.m.-5 p.m., are priced at $59.02. The first weekly tour is scheduled for May 14. For more information, visit