Interview with Eric Brent, Founder-Owner of HappyCow

In a purely unscientific observation, I have concluded this: Most vegans are foodies.

There’s something about getting creative with limited options that brings about an excitement for good food.

Taking that logic further, I propose this claim: The ideal job for a foodie is one in which they get paid to eat . . . Seems like a no brainer, right?

And this brings me to HappyCow. What started as a basic HTML page in 1999 (before Wix, WordPress, or any DIY web builder), is now a successful online resource for those seeking vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants. HappyCow has over 80,000 businesses in over 185 countries registered in its system.

When I spoke to Eric Brent, the founder-owner of HappyCow, he described the company as a product of his pre-internet musings about the need for advertising plant-based restaurants.

When I initially asked him, “What moved you to start HappyCow,” his response rang altruistic.

He had a friend in Thailand with a vegan food cart who needed help with advertising.

Eric, a 30-year vegan and lifelong traveler (He once traveled for 15 years straight!), usually struggled with finding accommodating restaurant options. He even got heat stroke one day while walking around Malaysia looking for something to eat. Then later, while living in India, he decided to take on a project that would serve those seeking vegan food around the world, as well as vegan restaurants that needed marketing assistance: “Serve” being the operative word here. Eric views the whole HappyCow project as a “labor of love”, he said. It was not initially an income-based endeavor. He saw HappyCow as this devotional, selfless service type of thing.

So, of course, my young vegan self had many questions for this veteran, to which he kindly obliged.

When I asked, “What are some of the most interesting places you’ve been to?” he immediately praised one spot: Thailand. Of the 60 countries he’s been to, Thailand is the winner, the “vegan mecca”, as he called it. From the vegan bakery in bustling Bangkok to casual cafés in the more remote Srithanu village on the Koh Phangan island, Eric cited the Thai culture as very accessible to plant-based folks.

Eric also praised a vegan hot spot destination that surprised me: Ukraine. My images of the Eastern European cuisine were challenged by his exciting recall of Vegan Boom, “the best veg fest I have ever been to” in Kiev. Apparently, successful veg festivals have just the right balance of food demos, vendors, yoga and meditation classes, and live music.

Throughout the interview, I was waiting for just the right moment to prompt Eric about the world’s best vegan cuisines.

Here’s what I got:

Eric: Vegan desserts from Veganerie in Bangkok, Thailand.

Kait: What’s good from there?

Eric: Everything! Especially dark chocolate brownies and matcha frappe; Vegan comfort food at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs, California; Ramen at Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar in San Francisco, California; Pizza at PickyWops in London, UK; Japanese vegan sushi from Youmiko in Warsaw, Poland.

The recent buzz about plant-based lifestyles excites Eric and the HappyCow team. He wants new or aspiring vegans to know this, “There is no better time to go vegan than right now.”

HappyCow is constantly updating information and registering new restaurants. In London, England alone, there are 128 exclusively vegan restaurants, six of which were added between February and September 2018, according to HappyCow data. That’s 6 restaurants in 7 months!

Good news! HappyCow is a sponsor of Veggie Fest Chicago. Our 13th annual festival takes place
August 10-11, 2019, serving the Chicagoland area and attracting over 45,000 people during the 2-day festival.

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