Forget La Vida Loca. Live “La Vida Veggie.”

When I was at Portland VegFest (2016 dates: October 22-23) this past November, I learned about a lot of new companies and people doing awesome things with food, clothing, magazines, speaking engagements, cooking, fitness, and so much more. One of the benefits of being part of such a great event was learning about people within my community, the Portland community, who are doing great things. One such person is Heather Solano.


In 2014, Heather saw an opportunity to spread plant-based eating to others outside of Portland (already a haven-and heaven-for veg-eaters) and so she opened up La Vida Veggie in next-door Beaverton, OR (hometown of Nike World Headquarters). After VegFest, Heather announced that she was turning her vegetarian menu into a 100% plant-based, vegan menu. I was intrigued and I recently finally got around to asking her more about this decision. I was able to learn the narrative of Heather and of La Vida Veggie and I bring you what is not a short Q&A, but Heather’s responses are so well-crafted, you won’t look at the clock once!
So grab your chips, salsa, and the guac, get comfy, and enjoy:

What made you open up a restaurant? Why vegetarian?

I have lived on the Westside of Portland since I was a kid. I’ve been all over by bike, foot, bus and car. I know this side of the river like the back of my hand. When I became vegan 6 years ago, I really longed for a place that I could go, relax and eat that was close. This desire along with my love of cooking with plant foods mixed with divine timing and moral support from my community, really inspired me to go for it. I specifically wanted a plant based restaurant for two reasons: 1. It is a lifestyle that I truly believe in and 2. I believe that it was an unfilled need on the west side. The summer of 2014, my youngest child was ready to start full day kindergarten and this small, humble space opened up across the street from school. It was perfect; and worth a try. Why not, right?!


Are you vegetarian or vegan? Why do you follow this diet or lifestyle?

I am vegan. I have been on this journey, bumps in the road and all, for six and a half years. I used to have a vegetarian friend in middle school. I thought she was eccentric and couldn’t understand her emotional meltdowns when my 14 year old self and friends would gather all of our change, order a half vegetarian/half pepperoni pizza from Old Town Pizza. The pepperoni juice would get on HER half of the pizza and she would then insist on getting her own personal pizza. This was my first brush with vegetarianism. (I totally understand her now!) Although I was a particular child who picked at my chicken to make sure I was only eating white meat and hid my pork chops in my pockets at the dinner table so I wouldn’t have to eat them, I never considered this lifestyle until my second child was born. His arrival via HVBAC in my kitchen (go figure!) changed many, many things in my life. One of these happened when, after nursing him, he would spit up his food and have gastro intestinal issues. I started to research what could have been causing this. One book suggested that dairy could be the culprit. I was eating my fair share of cheese and ice cream, so I did an experiment and cut it out of my diet. Not only did his discomfort go away but headaches that I had been living with, on almost a daily basis since I was a teen, miraculously disappeared. I was amazed! I picked up the book, Skinny Bitch and then The Kind Diet. What I read horrified me, but inspired me to learn more. I watched Earthlings, Forks over Knives, Food Inc. and anything else I could get my hands on. That was it for me. I could not support an industry that harmed animals, the environment and us human beings ever again. Cutting out meat was easy and surprisingly natural for me. I haven’t looked back since.


What made you decide to have La Vida Veggie make the shift to an all-vegan menu? How has the customer response been?

Honestly, I wanted to be an all vegan establishment from the very beginning. But, I was scared. I was scared of the doors closing before I could even open. I was scared of not being supported and not being able to acquire enough interest; after all, it is the wild wild west side! I didn’t have corporate money to advertise and open a huge, fancy place. I knew I had a lot of vegetarian supporters in the community. But, vegan? I wasn’t so sure. After one year of being open, I went for it. I always talk about being true to oneself; I wear my heart on my sleeve and I have to practice what I preach. It was scary to take the leap. However, I’m glad I made this decision. There have been a few people upset, but the response from the vegan community has been so great that it makes up for it. At the end of the day, I’m happy and satisfied with my decision.

What are some of LVV’s most popular dishes/foods?

We have a few best sellers. As expected, our specials usually sell out. I love specials! It’s a way for my staff and me to be creative, try out crazy and fun ideas and keep things fresh and interesting. Our menu is seasonal and changes every three months, however, our jackfruit and walnut meat tacos as well as our Portobello pesto grilled Panini are definitely our best sellers. The tacos are topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, oregano, pickled cabbage and a cashew lime cream. The Portobello Pesto has marinated portobellos, basil pine nut pesto, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and cashew cheese. Everything besides our breads and tortillas (at least for now!) is housemade.


What is your favorite food to create with?

Mushrooms…mushrooms are amazing! Not only do they taste amazing but they are so important to our environment. They purify the land, have complex underground systems and provide our bodies with important nutrients like Vitamin D, riboflavin and potassium. I love using them as one of my sources of protein too!  I have a love affair with portabellos. They are super “meaty” and I always bring them to family BBQ’s! I also always look forward to Chanterelle season every year. My favorite way to prepare them is to sauté them in fresh garlic and ginger with a touch of shoyu, cooking sherry and sesame oil. I also love to make gravy with them. One of my favorite ways to use mushrooms, however, is to pick out many different varieties and make a big bowl of mushroom ceviche. All of the flavors of the tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro and lime really marinate into the mushrooms and make them so tender and juicy.

La Vida Veggie doesn’t just dish up tasty vegan dining. LVV also puts on classes and workshops, right? What kinds of events are generally on the calendar and why take that on?

We absolutely love it when practitioners, artists, community organizers, etc. come to us and want to host events. I really envision LVV being a community space as well as a restaurant. Some events that we have hosted would include Women’s Red Tents, painting classes, tea ceremonies, art shows and of course, our monthly “Make Tamales Not War.” This is an event that is held most last Saturdays of the month where volunteers and I make up to 200 tamales that are then passed out to homeless men, women and children in our area. It’s really an amazing experience. We are currently also selling food tokens that are then given to the Beaverton Help Center next door, whom then distributes them to homeless families to redeem at our restaurant. Our events bring so much energy flow in and out of La Vida Veggie and they really bring the community together in many fun and interesting ways.


What’s been your most memorable experience since opening La Vida Veggie?

Oh my goodness….every day is memorable. Seriously; I learn so much every day. I’ve made so many mistakes (aka opportunities for growth) and I’ve just had to laugh at myself. So…memorable in a mind-blowing, “wow that was amazing!” way would have had to been attending the Portland VegFest 2015. I had made it my one-year goal to attend and it was an incredible experience. It was a major amount of work but it was so rewarding. I remember weeks and nights before having checklists—and checklists for my checklists—outlining everything that I needed to do and when. Something that has been invaluable for me has been to learn the art of delegation. So, nights before, I just had to give up some control and enlist help. Some wonderful volunteers, as well as my employees helped me prep everything. We had an open dining room for service plus about six people in our teeny tiny kitchen, hands on, making Operation VegFest happen. That Friday night [the night before VegFest], my kids were dressed to the nines making their acting debut on stage at school across the street for a spring performance. So, here I was, staying until the last second that I could at the restaurant and then jogging to school to catch my daughter’s lead role as “Narrator 1” just for it to end to jog back to answer my shop’s text message of “help!” Ha! It was a crazy (but fun!) couple of days. My most memorable moments have been like this, actually. Moments where I think I’m being tested and pushed so far to the edge that I actually may just fall off but in reality I’m growing, learning and accomplishing things that I never thought I could. I’m sure one of these days, the mountains to climb over are going to be 100 times larger and I’m just going to read back on this, chuckling, shaking my head and remembering how easy I (once) had it.

What drives you every day?

This question makes me laugh! I think that I am extremely stubborn and will-driven. Don’t think I can do it?! Well, yes…yes, I can and here, let me prove it! Besides my natural tendency to want to do everything, the fact that I truly, in my heart, believe in this lifestyle and everything it has to offer the world drives me to get up and go to work every day. I love to connect with people; I crave it and it is my purpose in life. I want to spread the message of veganism through this connection; through love and compassion; through non-judgmental living examples; through me and my business. I’m most definitely a dreamer and the reality of the business world has and continues to bring me back to Mother Earth but I just know in my heart that I was sent here to make a difference. And, I will only dedicate my time and energy to something if that is exactly what I’m doing.


Are you perfectly content with La Vida Veggie and its now-vegan menu or do you have additional plans in mind for your and LVV’s future?

La Vida Veggie will continue to be vegan forever. This will not change. However, I do dream of expanding out of my little 14 seat café restaurant. I think about it every single day of my life! I envision a larger, full restaurant with a hood (imagine that!). I would love to be able to exercise all of the menu ideas that I have and bring an incredible, classier version of La Vida Veggie to the Westside. I would love the capacity to make our own breads, tortillas, chips as well as have a more extensive and varied menu. I would also like to entertain the idea of a dance floor and stage for live music as well as a full drink menu, using the finest fresh juices and elixirs. I am convinced that this is where La Vida Veggie is going and I hope to continue to grow with the support and love from our community.


So what are you waiting for? Either add it to your list of restaurants to dine at when you visit Portland, or if you are local, make lunch or dinner plans  at La Vida Veggie! You won’t only be supporting this incredible small woman-owned and run business, but also the community that it supports through all it offers beyond creating and serving really good food.

Happy Eating!


Running Motivation: A Q&A with Ryan Good about taking on new running endeavors

I think it’s safe to say that we are still just beginning 2016. Let’s face it: We’re not really in 2016 until we all stop accidentally writing “2015” or “15” at the end of Today’s Date. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true, but you get what I mean. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to set goals for the new year. One could say that this is just a matter of semantics and they may be right; all I know is that goals work for me. Resolutions generally do not.

One of my many goals for this year is to run my most challenging ultramarathon yet, but this it isn’t necessarily a difficult task to find a race more challenging than anything I’ve done as none of the four ultras I’ve completed this year have been very technical or involved any significant elevation gain. The race that checks this box off could end up being a 100 miler or a 24 hour timed run, or it could be a challenging 50 miler or 100k; whatever the distance, it will be great. And I will be prepared. Part of that preparation is actually one of my other goals for this year which is to take advantage of the trails surrounding me here in Portland, Oregon.

                  Some of the consquences of trailrunning. It’s not trail running if you don’t get dirty.

Back in New Jersey, I had to drive at least an hour to find a decent trail, and here I am surrounded by them, and I’ve only taken advantage a few times. No more of this! I love the roads and I will run on them a lot as I train for a personal best in the marathon (Eugene Marathon), but I will be incorporating trails into my training and focusing my energy on trails after the marathon in May.

But I’m not the only one with goals. You all have goals too I’m sure and since you’re on this sight, perhaps they are running, food, or health-related. If they are to exercise or run more or to just get started, I encourage you to consider trail running. Committing to trail running may not be as easy lacing up the shoes and running right from your porch (though it could), but you’ll likely find the extra energy to get to the trails worth it. Running with nature under your feet, by your side, and sometimes right in your face can, for many people, have much more to offer than running on the concrete of an urban jungle or the pavement of suburbia.



Speaking of goals, running, trails, and ultras, I recently learned of a local Portland resident, Ryan Good, who completed his first ultramarathon, Deception Pass 50k, just this past December 2015. I reached out to Ryan to ask him some questions I had regarding his motivation, training, and experience. Fair warning, though: His fantastic responses and enthusiasm may result in you getting on and looking for a race.

Enjoy the Q&A!


 Q- What was the longest distance you raced before the 50k?

A marathon, but not for a long time. Back in the 90’s I raced a lot and ran some marathons. Unfortunately, I drifted away from running consistently and seriously, for a number of reasons—injuries, career, parenting, other sports, etc. It was only last fall, when I decided to do the 50k that I started training consistently again. It wasn’t exactly off the couch—I’d been hiking, doing ultra-distance cycling, and running occasionally—but then again, it was almost off the couch, and my biggest fear was getting injured and having to bail. So I took it very easy in training and didn’t do any racing. I did run a trail half-marathon and a trail marathon as part of my training, but I didn’t race them.

Q- What made you sign up for your first ultramarathon?

I’ve wanted to run an ultra since I first heard of them which was so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. And, years ago, I used to run with some “old guys” (they were about the age I am now, haha!) who were ultrarunners. They were just amazing athletes as well as being really quirky and fun to be around and to run with. It was a completely different experience from hanging out with the more serious roadies. I’m still close to a few of those guys today. That was part of it. Also, and probably more importantly, I’ve always been attracted to extreme endurance pursuits, to huge challenges. I’ve done a lot of backpacking, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ultra-distance cycling, etc. and have always really enjoyed those events—at least in the way that one enjoys extended suffering. There’s a clarity, a purity, a stripping away of excess that I can only find when I push my body and mind as hard as I can. Also, I’m not fast by any means, but I can go and go and go for a really long time. I guess I’m just stubborn, basically.

Q- Why did you choose the 50k (31.068 miles) as your first ultra and is there any reason why you chose Deception Pass 50k as your first experience?

I chose 50k because it seemed like a distance that I could probably tackle, but was longer than anything I’d done before, so it was still enough of a challenge to motivate me. I’d done a marathon before so I knew I could do one again, and I wanted a scary challenge, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a 50 miler yet. A 50k seemed like a natural choice. I chose Deception Pass for a couple of reasons. On the practical side, it fit my timeline: I had a 16 week training plan. So I got on to look for 50ks that were roughly 16 weeks out, and there it was: just 16 weeks and two days away. On a more personal side, I have spent a lot of time in that area (Deception Pass, Washington) over the years—bicycling, hiking, kayaking, camping—and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It seemed appropriate that I should fulfill this long-time goal in a place that so resonates with my spirit.

Q- How did you handle the training involved (e.g. nutrition, sleep, the added distance, etc.)?

This whole process has been really interesting, for a number of reasons. I have to remind myself that I’m older, for one thing. I was in my mid-twenties last time I was running seriously, and now, at 44, I constantly find myself being surprised at how differently my body responds to training: weight comes off slower; it takes longer to recover; I need way more sleep; etc. Another thing that made it an interesting learning experience is that I became vegan at the same time I started my training program, so I learned a lot about nutrition. I still have a lot to learn, and I still need to work on it. Running, at least running seriously, is, in my mind at least, less a sport than a lifestyle. I often say, only half-jokingly, that if all it took to be a good runner was to run a lot, I’d be a great runner! Because I love to run, and have no problem making time for running. But I fall short in areas more related to lifestyle: dialing my nutrition, not sleeping enough, not stretching enough, not strength training as much as I should, drinking a little too much, etc. Those are things I’m really working on now. They say in ultrarunning, you’ve got about 7 or 8 years of consistent improvement before you peak. Maybe that’s 8, or 10, or maybe 6, I don’t know exactly. But I do know that I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and I want to really commit to this thing and see how good I can get. Not in a competitive sense except against myself and against that little voice that always tells me to “just back off,” or “sleep in this once,” or “just have another beer,” but just to see what I can do. Watch out midpackers…I’m coming for you! Seriously though, it may sound silly, but getting back to serious (or at least consistent) running has been amazing for me. It’s given me a sense of purpose, focus, and excitement that I was missing before. I’m not saying life wasn’t good—it was—but I didn’t really have any goals that I was focusing on, and now I do. And that’s good for me. So all the changes I’ve had to make have been for the better, and that makes them easier to handle.

Q- Did you train solely on trails, mostly on trails or a combination of trails and road?

I did about half and half. Or maybe 60 roads/40 trails. I wish I could do all of my training on trails, but it’s just not practical living in the city. Also, I am one of those car-free types, who chooses to get around by bike and public transit (for a lot of the same reasons I’m vegan, but that’s a whole other story!), so getting to trailheads takes some planning. But I take the bus or MAX (Portland shuttle transit) to different Forest Park trailheads, and/or run to them on longer runs. I’ll tell you—I’ve gotten very, very familiar with Wildwood Trail (a trail in Forest Park)!

Q- After the long training, the post-race soreness, the somewhat limited socializing, will you run another ultramarathon? Why? What distance do you have in mind?

Oh, absolutely. The ultrarunning lifestyle definitely takes some adjusting to, and I’ve definitely made some sacrifices, but overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I feel way better both physically (despite the soreness!) and mentally. And, as I said earlier, I’m really looking forward to seeing how much I can do, how much I can improve. I’m doing another 50k soon, but my real goal right now is the S.O.B. (Siskiyou Out and Back) 50 Mile in July—I’m already signed up.

Q- Anything else you’d like to add?

I have a few things to add, and they might sound cliché- but I don’t care because they are absolutely true.

First, there is no way I could have done this without my wife. Man, I think she had to work harder than I did! I mean, all I had to do was run, right? She stepped up with all the extra cooking (learning to cook vegan at the same time, no less!); laundry (lots and lots of laundry, as any runner knows!); massaging my feet and legs; not minding that I was basically an absentee husband every weekend because I was gone running all the time, or sleeping when I was home; listening to me drone on endlessly about training strategies, nutrition, shoes, etc.; encouraging me when I was down or had doubts. Really, she deserves as much or more credit than I do. Ultra-spouses are the unsung heroes of the sport- it’s like being a race volunteer 24/7, and not even getting a t-shirt! So seriously, runners- thank your partners.

Second (and I really mean this): If I can do it, anyone can. I am as Average Joe as you can get. I’m not athletically gifted at all, unless you count being healthy enough to run, but that’s it. However, Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” and I really believe that. I was only able to do this because I kept putting one foot in front of the other, which you—yes you, reading this!—can do just as well as I can.

Lastly, running, to me, is an act of gratitude, in so many ways. How can I not feel thankful? At some point during almost every run I think of how fortunate I am that I’m healthy enough to run for hours on end; that I have the time to do it; the money to buy shoes, gear, and pay race fees; time and money to travel to races; beautiful places to run; and supportive people around me. And mostly, I’m thankful that I can experience the purity and simplicity of moving slowly through this beautiful world under my own power—to me, that is the essence of running.