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A spirit that is not afraid

At Plant Bae, there's more than food that meets the eye

Plant Bae in Opelika on February 19, 2023.
Plant Bae in Opelika on February 19, 2023.

All it took for Quebe Merritt to become a vegan was a pivotal doctor visit. After realizing she had trouble nursing her daughter and that her child did not respond well to dairy products, Merritt discovered she, like previous generations of her family, had high cholesterol during that fateful checkup.

In response, Merritt became a vegan as she traveled around the world and eventually began cooking plant-based meals for others before opening her second Plant Bae restaurant, located at 2816 Pepperell Parkway in Opelika, on Nov. 8, 2022.

For Merritt, the primary reason she started the brand was to improve people's health through nutrition.

"Being able to not have to take medication and empower myself through diet was shocking to me,” Merritt said. “I've seen so many people struggling with their health saying ‘I can't pay for my prescription. I don't have insurance.’ But knowing that you can do things based on what you're eating is shocking, so I definitely wanted to be able to share that with other people.”

Named by USA Today as one of the 20 best vegan restaurants in the Southeast in 2021, Merritt’s restaurant, Plant Bae, planted its roots in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, on May 8, 2020, and has not looked back.

For customers like Morris Lockhart, a regular who estimated he visits the Opelika location at least twice a week on average for “his health,” Plant Bae’s arrival was a welcome addition to the local food scene. Lockhart claimed he first found out about the restaurant in Montgomery and immediately visited the local shop when he found out about it.

“This is the best healthy food I’ve ever tasted. We needed something like that here, and more people need to know about it,” Lockhart said. “I love meat, and this tastes like meat.”

Lockhart, whose favorite menu item is the cauliflower wings, even said he enjoys the food so much that he came with his wife for Valentine's Day.

“The Valentine's event is definitely a bright spot. We got to see so many people from the community come in, dressed up,” Merritt said. “Typically, this is a casual diner, and we've gotten to know so many of our customers. Seeing them dressed up and excited with their Valentine was really special.”

According to the Food Revolution Network, there has been a 300% increase in the number of vegans in the United States since 2004. Additionally, 71% of Americans had tried a plant-based meat alternative by 2021. Having recently expanded with its new Opelika location, Plant Bae’s growth is part of that trend of increasing consumer demand--an increasing consumer demand that even saw customers drive well over an hour just to patronize Merritt’s Montgomery location.

“I really wanted to appeal to our customers that come from this area,” Merritt said. “We really listened to our customers, and our Montgomery customers would, especially on a Saturday, say, ‘hey, I'm driving up from Opelika, I'm coming from Columbus, we wish you guys would put a location there.’ We've heard that for almost two years.”

At the Opelika location, the menu offers exclusively plant-based items such as Philly cheese steaks, burgers, nachos, customer-favorite wings and various desserts. While the Opelika location is considered an express location without many of the Southern staples served by its Montgomery counterpart, it does serve the most popular items on the menu from the other location.

Plant Bae's Beau Burger, like all other menu items, is exclusively made with plant-based ingredients.

Plant Bae’s story has not been without its fair share of disappointments, however. Whether it was COVID-induced supply chain issues causing the price of a case of lettuce to increase from $40 to $100 a case or occasional staffing shortages at the new location, Merritt’s story of entrepreneurship has not been without its setbacks.

Yet despite those setbacks, Merritt, who works full-time as Montgomery Public Schools’ student achievement coordinator, remains as determined as ever to serve vegan food to the public. While it is much further on the horizon, she even dreams of expanding Plant Bae to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Plant Bae’s involvement with the local community does not stop with serving food. Within the next month, Merritt is also planning to hold her first charity event in the Opelika area through her initiative known as Granny’s Baeby, a program that sees the restaurant give away plant-based meals to the elderly.

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“I actually have no memory of [my grandparents]. They either passed away when I was a toddler or before I was born, and some of those diseases were highly preventable,” Merritt said. “I really think that helping care for other people's grandparents may help them stick around a little bit longer, and that's kind of the heart of the Granny’s Baeby program.”

Daniel Schmidt | Assistant News Editor

Daniel Schmidt, senior in journalism, is the assistant news editor for the Auburn Plainsman. 

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