Alternative diet trend becoming popular in Syracuse

Alternative diet trend reaches Syracuse

Syracuse restaurants are integrating more and more vegan, vegetarian and keto staples into their menus.
Published: February 11, 2020
Strong Hearts is filled as customers enjoy lunch a Saturday afternoon lunch on October 19, 2019 at the Strong Hearts Café.
Customers fill Strong Hearts Cafe on East Genesee and enjoy a Saturday lunch on October 19, 2019.

The line at Strong Hearts Cafe on East Genesee Street is 10 people deep and its approximately 12 tables are already full. Customers step up to order dishes such as “Eggs” Benetricked and “Chicken” Caesar Salad, amongst others.

Although the titles may suggest otherwise, none of the menu items contain ingredients sourced from animals. Every dish at the 12-year-old establishment is completely vegan.

Although Strong Hearts has been around since 2008, Jacob Pucci, a food and drink writer for, said the last few years have seen Syracuse take part in the nationwide alternative food trend — which he said includes vegetarian, vegan and keto. He attributed this change overall to younger people being more conscious of what they’re eating, as well as diet foods becoming more readily available options.

This falls right in line with a national statistic. A quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Americans say they are vegans or vegetarians, according to The Economist.

Although the rise of food alternatives in Syracuse creates competition, employees seem to be pleased with where the trend is headed.

Robert Stergas, an employee at Strong Hearts, said that he’s happy people are eating healthy and that there are more plant-based food options served even at traditional restaurants.

“Eleven years ago, you had to get a salad,” he said.

Chloe Danes, manager at The Brine Well Eatery in downtown Syracuse, agrees. She said an increase in students eating off campus has given a boost to the Syracuse food scene, particularly for restaurants that offer healthy or fun alternatives to traditional fare.

“Students being active makes businesses want to grow,” she said.

The Brine Well Eatery, which opened its doors in April, is based around the concept of the famous Rochester “Garbage Plate,” a heap of cholesterol featuring some sort of meat like a hot dog or sausage on top of fried potatoes and other sides, according to Visit Rochester. Danes said Brine Well’s mission is to put a healthy twist on the popular Upstate New York dish by offering the option to make every plate vegetarian or vegan with plant-based burgers.

Although there has been an increased desire for plant-based products in Syracuse, another popular food alternative, food writer Pucci mentioned, has been the keto diet — and Dolce Vita on East Genesee Street specializes in it.

According to Antonia Vigliotti, an employee at the restaurant and granddaughter of the owner, keto is a low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat diet.

She said they introduced the keto menu last summer, and since then they have seen an increase in customers coming through the door, with people seeking out keto food making up 70% of their business and regulars switching to keto becoming more common.

The popularity of keto at Dolce Vita follows the national trend, and, according to Shape, keto was the most popular diet of 2018.

CoreLife Eatery is a national chain that specializes in greens, grains and proteins that started in Syracuse in 2015 and now has 61 locations nationwide.

According to Brandon Horner, an employee at the Syracuse location, CoreLife is more than food, it’s a lifestyle. CoreLife uses its platform to partner with fitness centers in the Central New York area as well as to offer free yoga sessions at its restaurants, he said.

“It creates a more well-rounded culture,” Horner said. “It is changing the mindset of healthy eating to healthy lifestyle.”

Although there has been a rise in alternative foods in Syracuse, another food fad that could have serious potential remains relatively untapped: CBD-infused products.

CBD is short for cannabidiol and is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t have a strong effect on cognitive brain activity and doesn’t cause the “high” associated with marijuana, according to Live Science.

Don Cazentre, a writer on marijuana at, said he saw the rise of CBD-infused products come about in late 2018, with local restaurants Original Grain and Wunderbar offering those products in recent months.

While CBD-infused food and drinks are illegal in New York, restaurants still offer them because the law isn’t enforced, Cazentre said, adding that the debate over the issue is in massive legal flux.

The CBD beverages market value is currently at $86 million but will reach an estimated $1.4 billion by 2023, with 40% of U.S. consumers saying they would try CBD, according to Visual Capitalist. If CBD-infused food and drink products were to become legal, with these statistics, it looks like there could be another alternative boom in Syracuse.

According to Pucci, the alternative food trends already in Syracuse are here to stay.

“I see it becoming more of a new norm than a fad,” he said.