Imagine delicious, nutritious, and local produce driven plant-based food available just a phone call away. Luckily for Binghamton residents, this imagination is a reality thanks to local vegan foods company and restaurant Parlor City Vegan. Serving up plant-based versions of your favorite comfort foods, Parlor City Vegan presents accessible and healthy vegan food options to its patrons and supplies customers and other popular local restaurants with their scratch made vegan food products.
Having been vegetarian for thirteen years, and vegan for several of those years, owner and head chef Sara Liu had quickly discovered her passion for plant-based cooking. After her father had a heart attack in the spring of 2016, Sara began packing him vegan meals; once a diet he used to poke fun at her for, he quickly learned after trying for himself how delicious vegan alternatives could be. Inspired by this, Sara thought if her healthy plant-based alternatives could help her father, and he truly enjoyed them at the same time, then she could help other people find healthier versions of their favorite foods, too.
In September 2016, Parlor City Vegan was born, at that time just a vegan foods company and catering business. The concept behind Parlor City Vegan all goes back to Sara’s family ties. Sara grew up in a rural area of Tioga County. Surrounded by farms, her grandmother taught her not only how to cook, but the importance of utilizing the great produce found in their community, a value that Parlor City Vegan embodies to this day. When catering, Sara sources her food from local farmers and when creating the menu for the café, she also visits the Broome County Regional Farmer’s Market each week for her ingredients in order to ensure her menus are hyper local produce driven.
Catering initially took Parlor City Vegan far and wide from the Finger Lakes region to Boston and anywhere in between for parties, weddings, and corporate events alike. At that time, Sara never thought that the business would grow into the restaurant that it is today. The Parlor City Vegan café located on Clinton Street in Binghamton opened in October 2019. With a line around the block and selling out of food within their first week, the launch was a huge success.
Already a unique eatery as the Southern Tier’s only all vegan restaurant, Parlor City Vegan could not stop there, as they offer a daily crafted menu of scratch-made plant-based food inspired by her farmer’s market purchases for the week. In July 2020, Parlor City Vegan launched their summer farm to table menu series, where each week’s menu would be crafted to spotlight local growers such as Patrick Van Housen’s Organic Farm in Windsor and VINES urban farms in Binghamton. Unfortunately put on pause due to COVID-19, Sara also looked to create a community dining experience where she could feature these innovative menus and invite the farmers to come in for a meal and talk about their produce.
The creativity behind each of Sara’s recipes is endless as she is able to turn any traditional meal into a vegan delight. Sara notes that making food accessible is an important part of Parlor City Vegan’s mission. When many think of vegan food, they picture a diet of just salads and vegetables or expensive alternatives that could not possibly live up to the originals. Parlor City Vegan challenges the standard view on vegan foods and offers recognizable meals such as mac and cheese, buffalo wings, cheeseburgers, and more at affordable prices.
“We are located in the First Ward of Binghamton, and unlike somewhere such as New York City where vegan restaurants are more popular, we are one of a kind here. If someone walks in off the street, we want our food to come off as accessible and appealing to anyone and everyone,” says Sara.
If you have ever visited Parlor City Vegan, outside of its cozy décor, you may have noticed some other key features of the café. First is its miniature artisan market, which sells locally made crafts and vegan products sourced from Upstate New York. Across the café is Parlor City Vegan’s deli case, where customers can buy their favorite scratch made Parlor City Vegan cheeses including mozzarella, feta, and their signature truffle cheddar cheese sauce. The case also proudly displays some of the vegan delights Sara and her team are serving up for dessert.
Previously, Sara also served as a mentor for the founders of The Green Street Smoothies Co., a Hudson Valley based business, using the Parlor City Vegan kitchen and café as an incubator. Having previously been the Executive Director of Broome-Tioga Workforce, business and workforce development are incredibly important to Sara. By providing The Green Street Company with a commercial kitchen to work out of, they could learn the ins-and-outs of restaurant operations and prepare them to launch their own business.
When asked why she chose to live and operate out of Broome County, the answer was simple, “I had initially moved to Broome County to go to Binghamton for my undergraduate degree, and I thought I would then pursue my graduate education at SUNY Buffalo, but after leaving the area, I just found I couldn’t stay away. I met my husband and we got married and both agreed to stay here because we love the area so much.”
Sara and her husband Lei say some of their favorite things about Broome County is its beautiful natural setting. When customers ask for recommendations on things to do in the area, hiking is always at the top of their list since there are so many parks with dozens of trails throughout Broome. Of course, at the end of the day, when asked what makes living in Broome a good life, it comes down to the people.
“I pinch myself every day because of the great relationships I have within my community. One of our staff members is a student in the new SUNY Broome Culinary Program and they are just incredibly talented. Having access to these local farms and amazing farmers who are willing to grow whatever we want and invite us into their homes and farms to see what they are growing is huge to us.”
The Parlor City Vegan Café is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 to 5:30 PM. Visit the restaurant to try some unique eats, browse local artists works, and discover the delicious scratch made vegan food products made in Broome.