Vegetarian, vegan restaurant Veggie Heaven to relaunch downtown after 17 years near campus

Lauren Florence

After shutting down its Guadalupe Street location last December, local vegetarian restaurant Veggie Heaven plans to return to business next spring at a downtown location.

The Asian-influenced vegetarian and vegan restaurant will relaunch in March at 1161 West 5th St. after being located on Guadalupe since 1997.

The restaurant originally closed because Mei Chen, co-founder and co-owner of Veggie Heaven, wanted to retire. Stacy Chen, Mei’s daughter and the creator and founder of Veggie Heaven, said although they hadn’t planned to reopen, she decided to open the restaurant’s new location after customers pleaded for its return.

“We didn’t stay at the Guadalupe, because we weren’t planning on keeping Veggie Heaven. So we gave up that location because we were going to retire, especially for my mom,” Chen said.

Chen said they began looking for a new location back in May. She said the 5th Street location was the last location they applied for that accepted them.

Chen said the location near campus is actually more expensive than the one they have on Fifth Street, which also led them to pick a downtown location.

“Usually the community sees us around the Austin area and the community [recognizes] us and [asks] us to bring Veggie Heaven back,” Chen said. “They usually said they missed Veggie Heaven too much.”

Lainey Benson, president of University Vegetarians and human geography junior, said she was disappointed when Veggie Heaven closed, because it was a place her organization used to have meetings. Benson said the old location near campus was good for non-vegetarian students to a try plant-based, sustainable diet.

“Students who were a little weary about changing their diet were given kind of an encouraging light,” Benson said. “It showed that it wasn’t hard to adjust their eating habits and that there were a lot of tasty ways to do so. Veggie Heaven closing meant a little more than just a loss of meeting grounds for [University Vegetarians].”

Benson said while the new location will be less accessible for students, Veggie Heaven will still be a hot spot for vegetarians.

“Veggie Heaven was a beloved local business, so seeing it make a comeback, no matter the location, is really cool,” Benson said. “I definitely plan on visiting there once it opens to support local eateries that focus on a meat-free menu.”

The new Veggie Heaven will offer some new vegan menu items as well as old favorites, Chen said, including their famous “Protein 2000,” a vegan dish of soybean vegetable proteins and vegetables in a sweet brown sauce.

Austin Shaver, UT alumnus and former member of the Bhakti Yoga Club, which practices “spiritual vegetarianism,” said that while the food was great, the old location’s atmosphere needed improvement. Shaver said changing the location of the restaurant could make the dining experience more pleasurable.

“The restaurant had little room for the large amount of tables it fit into the space, which made you anxious to even go use the restroom,” Shaver said. “The place also had an unbearably large amount of fluorescent lighting, which made you want to leave as soon as possible. So as long as they change the atmosphere, I have no doubt they’ll do better than great.”