For years Colleen Risbey was frustrated there were no late-night delivery options available for vegans in Montreal. An experienced chef, Risbey was also determined to start cooking more food that she was passionate about. So after three years of planning and scheming, Risbey is now the proud owner of her very own business.
La Tomate Roulante is a delivery-only restaurant which serves vegan munchies to those who stay up late in St-Henri, NDG and downtown (as far as Guy). I stopped by La Tomate Roulante’s headquarters in St-Henri recently to give vegan take-out a try, and learn how Risbey plans to accomplish her mission to “feed the people” of Montreal.
Launching any new business is risky. It’s especially true when your new venture is in a saturated market like the restaurant business. But the reality that most restaurants fail didn’t seem to phase Risbey one bit. “More than half the restaurants I used to work in are now closed,” Risbey declared very matter-of-factly.
So why is Risbey so confident in La Tomate Roulante’s future? “Because through all my experience I’ve learned how NOT to run a kitchen.” Risbey said. “Combined with the fact that I’m able to run this business at a low cost and I’m doing something no one else is, makes me extremely confident in its future.”
Risbey is adamant that her menu items will always be financially accessible to anyone. “It’s really important to me that anyone can afford to buy my product. Too many people end up eating crap like McDonalds because it’s the only type of food they can afford. It IS possible to eat well and cheap.” Risbey’s entire menu, from sandwiches to salads to desserts, is available for five dollars or less.
For the tasting Risbey prepared three sandwiches, all with Asian and Mediterranean influences. First up was Risbey’s flagship sandwich the Avocado Bahn-Mi: a French baguette with vegan garlic aioli, avocado slices, sautéed nappa cabbage, carrots and smoked tofu topped with red onions and cilantro. A sucker for anything with avocado in it, I was immediately hooked after the first bite.
While Risbey may feel the “Avocado Bahn-Mi” is her strongest menu item, I felt each subsequent item she presented was even stronger. The next sandwich I tried was the Nilufar Creation: Nilufars falafel, spinach, roasted garlic and pepper hummus, marinated cucumbers and fresh tomato in a pita bread.
I would highly encourage this sandwich to anyone who loves falafel, as it was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. The falafel in this sandwhich is courtesy of Restaurant Nilufar, who Risbey has developed a strong working relationship with. “I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it’s been working with Nilufar,” Risbey swooned. “If only all relationships were this easy!”
The final sandwich I tasted was The Alfresco: a toasted baguette with smoked paprika potato salad, vodka battered and double fried tofu with a double date chili sauce and maple dill sauce.
The Alfresco was the clear winner of the three sandwiches in terms of taste, but also the unhealthiest. “People seem to have a misconception that vegan food is always healthy, but I think The Alfresco proves that theory wrong,” Risbey noted with a smile. “At least you know it’s better for you then a hamburger.”
After initially being nervous as to how I would like vegan food, I easily finished every morsel Risbey put in front of me. Even after she’s been professionally cooking for years, Risbey was clearly thrilled that I enjoyed her creations. “Cooking is my art- it’s always been inspiring to me. Nothing makes me happier than feeding people.”
Food photos by Skylar Bouschel