Karyn Calabrese Opens Up About Her Vegan Empire's Decline

By Mae Rice in Food on Apr 22, 2016 9:49PM

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Karyn Calabrese in 2014, before her accident (photo via Facebook)

Karyn Calabrese opened her first vegan restaurant in Roscoe Village more than 20 years ago, and it's since grown into something of a vegan empire. That empire, though, has been looking increasingly wobbly in recent months. After some interviews with Calabrese herself—who has not been taking our calls—Crain's published a glorious profile of her Thursday. Titled "The fall of vegan queen Karyn Calabrese," the profile lives up to its headline, but captures Calabrese's side of the story.

In recent months, we've been documenting her fall a bit here, too. In December, Calabrese started a GoFundMe to save her Lincoln Park restaurant after it was hugely damaged by a fire; soon after, employees started anonymously alleging that her restaurant was unsanitary and that she was wearing designer clothes (and asking for donations) while her employees' checks bounced. Then in February, Calabrese sent out an email blast with an odd combination of materials: photos of her prone in a hospital bed and a promo for a detox class.

Crain's takes a deeper dig. The piece follows Karyn from childhood to her appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show to her current financial struggles. It's a real roller coaster, and writer Meribah Knight picks out incredible details that make you feel every feeling towards Calabrese at once: love, skepticism, fashion envy and more. The profile —it's a real roller coaster. Below, we've pulled out three of our favorite passages, but it's worth reading the whole thing in full.

On the recent fall that put her in the hospital, from which she is still recovering:

“I am telling you, I have had such a tough year,” she says, shaking her head, which is topped with a Karyn's baseball cap because she can't lift her arm high enough to brush her hair. She can, however, reach low enough to slip on black Versace boots lined with fake fur.

On the budget-conscious lifestyle Calabrese leads now that her businesses are financially insolvent:

In our second interview she tells me the Bentley, her only car, is now 15 years old, and points to her budget-minded thigh-high Sam Edelman boots. “Now that I don't have any money I still want to look cute. It's who I am.”

On employee accusations that her restaurants are unsanitary:

“I eat here every day, and I am the finickiest person in the world.”