It’s 2018 and vegan products are everywhere, from the meatless patties at White Castle to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, a New York-based restaurant chain named By Chloe seems poised to take the “vegan glow” global, thanks to a major investment — and despite the tabloid-friendly disputes of its former partner.
The picture-perfect fast-casual chain, which currently has 10 U.S. locations (mostly in the Northeast) plus two outposts in London, just received a hefty $31 million dollars in funding from various investment groups banking on the twee vegan restaurant’s mass appeal, Moneyish reports. The infusion of cash will allow the chain to take its famed Guac Burgers to all corners of the Earth, with 20 locations planned globally over the next two years; target markets include Dubai, Canada, and Europe.
1) Wait, isn’t by CHLOE. a clothing store?
Nope, it’s a vegan chain named for chef-founder Chloe Coscarelli, of course. While she’s since left the company (more on that later), Coscarelli’s name stills live on the restaurant’s signage and even the labels of its branded coconuts. By Chloe is stylized as “by CHLOE.” in branding, always punctuated by a period presumably in order to drive copy editors insane.
2) Who is Chloe exactly?
A vegan for more than a decade, Coscarelli grew up in Los Angeles and then transitioned into a career in food after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in sociology, according to Forbes. When she was starting her business in Los Angeles, Coscarelli gained national attention for winning Food Network’s Cupcake Wars by baking chocolate strawberry shortcake cupcakes without using eggs, milk, or butter.
Coscarelli went on to write three vegan cookbooks before pursuing her first By Chloe in partnership with Samantha Wasser of ESquared Hospitality. That restaurant landed in New York City’s West Village in 2015, drawing very long lines.
3) What’s By Chloe’s schtick?
By Chloe is designed to appeal to omnivores and “elite vegans.” Some have even called it the Shake Shack of vegan restaurants, perhaps because of its fast-casual format and burgers. “We didn’t want it to scream ‘vegan,’ we wanted it to scream food and fun and delicious,” Coscarelli told the New York Times in a 2015 interview. The restaurants — from the black-and-white awnings to the paper lining on its metal trays to the whole coconuts — are inherently Instagrammable. Menus even feature cutesy illustrations such as frowny-faced melting ice cream cones and smiley faces with Xs for eyes.
Coscarelli and Wasser designed the restaurants to be a millennial oasis. “I think that By Chloe has a great access point for millennials as an approachable, colorful, fun space,” Wasser, who largely came up with the restaurant’s marketing and aesthetic, told Forbes. “When Chloe and I were working on the concept, we trusted our instincts for decisions, going off of what we liked and what we would want to see if we were a customer.”
4) Hold on a second, WTF is an elite vegan?
Good question. While for a long time vegans were stereotyped as hippies or animal rights activists, there’s now a growing movement among vegans to shed the granola image in order to appeal to a wider audience of consumers. Veganism, the movement is saying, is healthy, good for the environment, and beautiful.
This group touts a so-called vegan “glow,” described by the New York Times as “an irresistible incandescence that starts to emanate from within after a few weeks or months of eating only plants.” The New Yorker further delved into “elite veganism,” a lifestyle that attracts “well-heeled subset of SoulCycling, health-obsessing foodies.” Some of these wealthy observants of veganism, compellingly dubbed the “vegan mafia,” are even putting their money into developing more widely appealing meatless products. Undoubtedly, By Chloe fits well into this category as the vegan restaurant industry’s embodiment of an “effervescent pixie lifestyle” according to one New York Times reporter.
5) So, vegan means it’s healthy right?
While eating a balanced vegan diet can be healthy, By Chloe isn’t necessary in the business of peddling utlra-healthy food. The restaurant serves cookies, burgers, and ice cream, after all. As Wasser put it to Metro UK:
“Fats are super important and yes, our items are probably higher in calories but that’s because they use nuts and things that happen to be higher in fats like avocado. We want to educate people in what ingredients actually do to your body versus ‘This is 100 calories, I should stay away from it.’ Yes, we serve ‘junk food’ because it’s burgers and fries but you can go in there and eat clean and still feel like you’re indulging but there are days when you might just want to come and have a burger and a cupcake and a mac ‘n’ cheese.”
6) But it tastes good, right?
It depends on who you ask, but many food reviews have been positive — especially toward the Guac Burger. Gothamist’s Scott Lynch called the burger — made from black bean, sweet potato, and quinoa patty that’s topped with guacamole — the best veggie burger in New York City. The same dish also received a hearty thumbs up from Tasting Table editors. “The creamy, crunchy and just slightly spicy patty... is hard to put down, even for meat eaters,” Devra Ferst writes. Nicolas Niarchos for The New Yorker deemed the chipotle aioli and the beet ketchup “very good, and very free,” the vegan mac and cheese “better than the real thing,” and the rest of the food “undeniably delicious.”
For every positive reception their was also a detractor. While the New York Times favored the kale and romaine salad with miso-lemon-caper dressing and shiitake “bacon,” the mac and cheese and meatball sub were flops. “A so-called spicy Thai salad qualifies as neither, despite the presence of sriracha,” writes Ligaya Mishan. And Eater NY’s Robert Sietsema was equally underwhelmed by the savory dishes he sampled. “The ‘classic burger’ — sporting a patty composed of tempeh, lentils, chia, and walnuts — was awful, the bun dry and the patty like a piece of cardboard,” he writes. Sietsema concludes that “you should go for the baked goods at By Chloe instead of the savory.”
7) What’s with By Chloe’s Instagram account?
It’s weird. The posts are organized by color and feature food-themed art (often linking back to the artists as a strategy to grow followers). Coscarelli’s account was intentionally kept separate, according to Wasser, who is in charge of the By Chloe Instagram account’s aesthetic. The account currently boasts more than 106,000 followers.
8) Wait, so what exactly is ESquared Hospitality?
ESquared Hospitality is a restaurant group behind the especially meaty BLT restaurant empire that includes BLT Prime (yes, that BLT Prime) and its various iterations. The group also owns spots like Casa Nonna, the Florentine, and the Wayfarer. ESquared’s CEO Jimmy Haber is was also a head of the private equity firm Juno Investments and told Crain’s in 2014 that the profits from the investment firm have allowed him to buy his way into the restaurant industry. Haber began “passive” restaurant investments in the 1980s, including Le Bilboquet on the Upper East Side. Haber struck a partnership with chef Laurent Tourondel to start the BLT brand in 2003.
Haber began grooming his daughter Samantha Wasser — co-founder of By Chloe — to join the restaurant group. She’s currently the creative director at ESquared and oversees much of the branding for the group’s new restaurants.
9) What’s the drama at By Chloe?
Despite By Chloe’s enduring cutesy aura, behind the scenes, Coscarelli’s relationship with ESquared quickly soured. By June 2016, Coscarelli had filed a lawsuit against Haber alleging that the CEO threatened her after she refused to allow the group to open non-vegan restaurants in her name. Wasser then sold her assets in By Chloe to ESquared in exchange for a $5 million loan, without Coscarelli’s approval, according to the New York Post.
By Chloe restaurants continued to multiply until March 2017, when Coscarelli severed her partnership with ESquared Hospitality. Coscarelli told the Wall Street Journal she intended to also strip her name from the businesses, saying “I will protect the integrity of my brand.” ESquared promptly fired back that Coscarelli had been ousted after an arbitrator determined she was being “grossly negligent” with the business. The offenses outlined in the legal documents included claims that Coscarelli lost leases and interfered with and sabotaged planned collaborations with other vegan chefs. Wasser also called the claim that ESquared wanted to add meat to the menus “outrageous.” Coscarelli contributions have dually been scrubbed from the company’s website.
Fast forward to April 2018, and Coscarelli has returned with yet another lawsuit against ESquared, alleging that Haber began pushing her out of the company after she rejected his “advances,” according to Eater NY. Coscarelli is suing for damages in an attempt to reclaim her name from the company’s branding, and alleges in the 129-page lawsuit that By Chloe’s food has declined in quality because the brand “cut costs and sacrificed quality to increase profits.”
10) Has Haber feuded with partners before?
Why yes, actually. ESquared’s head honcho is no stranger to lawsuits from spurned business partners. The hospitality group’s biggest brand, BLT, was actually started with chef Laurent Tourondel. Tourondel left the restaurants in 2010 and eventually won legal rights to open solo BLT locations. He then entered into a licensing agreement with ESquared that allowed the hospitality group to use BLT trademarks in exchange for royalties.
11) So, is Coscarelli just lying low somewhere plotting her next move?
Not exactly. Although Coscarelli is still filing lawsuits to try to free her name from her former restaurant, the 30-year-old chef has moved on to warmer climes and new projects. Earlier this year, Coscarelli launched a vegan restaurant at the Miami food hall outpost of St. Roch Market. It’s dubbed (the extremely wordy) Chef Chloe and the Vegan Cafe.
12) What’s Wasser up to now?
Wasser, too, is working on other no-doubt-Instagrammable ventures beyond By Chloe including Dez, a fast-casual Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant in partnership with Canadian Top Chef alum Eden Grinshpan, and Italian fast-casual pasta spot the Sosta with chef Ali LaRaia. May those chefs have better luck with ESquared than the last few did.