Opening a 100 percent plant based restaurant just last June, husband and wife duo Dwight Spence and Tzirel Bleier are paving the way in plant-based and vegan eating in the Sarasota area. In these times, restaurants are one of the few places where Sarasota residents can take comfort in a sense of normalcy. While customers can not eat on-site per Governor DeSantis’ orders, Fork My Life offers takeout options through third-party deliverers, like GrubHub, in addition to curbside pickup.
Fork My Life is located in Sarasota’s Gulf Gate area, and while it is surrounded by many local businesses, it stands out in both taste and origin.
Spence originally grew up in New York City in the Bronx, and lived there until his move to Sarasota in 2018 with his family. While in New York, Spence and Bleier decided to change their diets to include more plant based food for multiple reasons. Spence had been exploring the idea of eating more natural foods as he grew up in Jamaican culture which includes a lot of veganism already. Blieier also suffered from herniated discs in her back, which were corrected after she tried a three-month plant-based diet.
Even the name Fork My Life was created while Spence and Bleier were living in New York.“Me and my wife were laying in bed, and she was playing around with names of places we would want to eat at that didn’t exist. I thought the name was cute, and we said we should do something with it. So, we set up the name and made it official,” said Spence.
The restaurant was created while keeping people in mind who may not be ready to go completely vegetarian or vegan, but want to try it, and Fork My Life’s menu does all that and more. While providing options to those who follow Whole Foods Plant Based No Sugar, Oil or Salt (WFPB No-SOS) the menu is still full of choices. With over 50 options on the menu (many of which can be made gluten free) the food ranges from the “Loaded Nachos” to vegetable spring rolls to meatloaf, WFPB No-SOS jackfruit stew and WFPB No-SOS and candied yams.
“We do ziti, we do lasagna, we want to make sure we can catch those people who are intrigued but not ready to make the full commitment [to plant based]. Even if they just want to have a meatless Monday, they can find a comparable dish to what they are comfortable with,” said Spence.
A large portion of the restaurant’s customers are not 100 percent vegan but more flexitarian according to Spence.“Our menu is pretty diverse and I can’t really classify it into one thing. We have whole food plant based options, we have comfort food, we have salads. We don’t do conventional bowls or salads you can get that anywhere. I wanted to break that stereotype especially for myself of vegan food meaning rabbit food,” said Spence.
Originally, the restaurant did a soft-opening in June of 2019, and then reopened after renovations. “We figured doing a soft-opening would be a great way to feel the area out and talk with some of the community members and just to see what they were interested in eating…we were kind of shocked there weren’t too many cooked vegan food options,” said Spence.
The most popular item on the menu is the “BBQ Burnt Ends” which is barbecue burnt ends, jalapeno coleslaw and fried onions and pickles on a burger roll for fifteen dollars.
Along with the success of the actual restaurant, Fork My Life is very active in other areas as well. From selling food at Fruitville Grove Berry Festival last month to working with the Suncoast Blood Drive and offering lunch for free to blood donors, the restaurant and family behind it are a large part of the Sarasota community. The restaurant also serves as the home base for the Vegan Society of Sarasota.
“I would like to give a nod to the Small Business Administration (SBA) SCORE. We got a lot of help from Lee Hoffman a great mentor and friend to us and I know we wouldn’t have been able to open this without his help and his feedback and we are just so grateful for that,” said Spence.
SCORE is a partner of the SBA which is a government program designed to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses.
“We love to cook. Our favorite times are just sitting around the table eating delicious food and having laughs with great company. That’s really the crux of how we see life. We wanted to be able to provide that for everybody” said Spence.