Netflix's latest true crime obsession has arrived. Titled Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., the four-part docuseries tells the story of Sarma Melngailis, former owner of the NYC vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine, and her relationship with frauster Anthony Strangis. Over the course of their relationship, Melngailis sent Strangis over a million dollars, leaving her rent and payroll from the restaurant unpaid, with Strangis claiming he could make all of Melngailis' dreams come true, including turning her beloved dog immortal. Eventually the couple left New York and spent 10 months living under assumed names while hiding from police.
This new dispatch from the Spring of Scam has everything to hook a viewer, from testimonials from Melngailis family and employees to a surprising celeb subplot to regular updates about the adorable pup Leon. Melngailis herself also participates in the documentary, leading many fans to wonder how the former restaurant owner is now firing. Here's everything we know about where the titular bad vegan is now.
Did Sarma go to prison?
In 2017, Melngailis took a plea deal and plead guilty to larceny, tax fraud, and conspiring to defraud. As part of the deal, she served four months in prison later that year.
As for Strangis, the scammer pled guilty to four counts of grand larceny and was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation. He was also made to pay $840,000 in restitution to investors. Melngailis filed for divorce after serving her sentence.
Did Sarma pay back her employees?
A large part of Bad Vegan is spent hearing about Melngailis and Strangis from the employees who worked for Pure Food and Wine during their marriage, most of which either left the restaurant or eventually went on strike due to non-payment. The former restaurant owner did eventually pay her employees who went unpaid during the time period shown in the documentary; Melngailis wrote on her website (opens in new tab) that, in exchange for the source materials and images she contributed to the docuseries, she received a fee that went to the attorney representing the employees.
"I was relieved once this payment went through, but that was just a small part of what remains outstanding. I want to be clear that I’ll keep working towards addressing it all—one way or another—eventually," she wrote.
She also wrote that besides the back pay, which she claimed on her income taxes, she did not profit from Bad Vegan. "Netflix and/or the producers can confirm this. Anyone who’s been the subject of a reputable documentary or who works in the industry could also confirm the standard practice of not paying subjects," she wrote.
What is Sarma working on now?
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According to her Instagram (opens in new tab), Sarma spends a lot of her time reading and hanging out with her dog Leon at her NYC home. She also seems to be working projects where she can continue to tell her story, judging by a post where she was recording a podcast (opens in new tab) three weeks ago.
The raw food enthusiast also said that she was up for opening another restaurant during a New York Post (opens in new tab) interview in 2019 "If there was some magical opportunity to open the same restaurant in the same place, I would do it in a heartbeat. I think New York would take me back," she said.
How does Sarma feel about the documentary?
In her recent website post, titled "About Bad Vegan - Part One," Melngailis shared some of her thoughts about what she thinks the documentary got wrong, specifically claiming that she didn't flee voluntarily with Strangis and she didn't want to marry him.
"While early tabloids got the first word and a lot of that narrative has stuck, I didn’t 'flee' in 2015 as those accounts stated, nor was I 'on the lam,' at least not to my knowledge," she claimed. "I didn’t know what funds Anthony had at the time, and I no longer had access to my electronic devices and email/text accounts. I can already hear the troll chorus of Yeah right! but most of what I say is verifiable. It also feels important to point out that of the money I’d raised at the end, over 90% went to re-open the restaurant and make payments. The idea that I would do all of that only to then run away with a man I hated and feared makes no sense. I didn’t want to marry him, and that part of the story was inaccurately condensed."
She added. "Also, the ending of Bad Vegan is disturbingly misleading; I am not in touch with Anthony Strangis and I made those recordings at a much earlier time, deliberately, for a specific reason. There’s a lot Bad Vegan gets right, but it’s hard not to get stuck on the things that aren’t right or leave an inaccurate impression. Later, I’d like to clear up more."
Speaking to Newsweek, director Chris Smith and Ryann Fraser said in response: "The inclusion of the last phone call isn't to imply that Sarma and Anthony were still close. The call is dated "22 Months After Prison"—and Anthony clearly says at the end of the call "it was nice to hear your voice"—which we feel shows that communication between them is not common...In this call, we found Sarma to be confident and strong—making fun of the tales Anthony had spun, telling him that he had to show up on a unicorn for there to be any reconciliation (meaning there is no reconciliation)."
In a March blog post, Melngailis shared a letter she said she'd written to Strangis, who she calls "Mr. Fox." It reads, in part:
"Everything is gone—the restaurant, the brand, my home, my work, my employees, my customers, even all my things: clothes, papers, files, photos, everything. Also, my integrity. And scariest of all for me: my independence.
"All that was lost has been replaced by awful things that feel really bad. I’m grossly humiliated both publicly and privately. Opening the door and letting you in, that was my fault. I did that. My Mom (what you did to my mom!!) and so many other good people, and my own employees, got hurt… because of me. That’s on me. I have to live with that. Can you imagine how that feels? No, you can’t. Shame and responsibility are foreign concepts to you.
"Lately, some well-meaning people have said to me—maybe in a desperate attempt to find some kind of positive spin—Well, it’s a clean slate now! What? Are you serious? It’s not a clean slate. It’s a horrifically messy slate. It’s a legal, tax, logistical fuckfest of a slate. I exist under a massive pile of debt. When you found me, I had debt, but it was manageable, and, importantly, I had assets and a future and promise. I had so much goodwill, built up over years. I had people in it with me that were working hard for our future. Now that’s gone. Replaced by a massive elephant of debt and destruction, sitting on top of me. Because of you."
What about her dog, Leon?
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Though Leon is not immortal, the pup is alive and well, and he just celebrated his 12th birthday (opens in new tab) last March. He's a regular on Melngailis' Instagram, lots of photographs of Leon reading nonfiction books, and he also has his own Instagram, @oneluckyrescuedog (opens in new tab), which Melngailis runs.
In an interview with Netflix's website Tudum (opens in new tab), Melngailis shared that Leon has recently recovered from surgery due to a hematoma, and explained how the pup helps her stay grounded.
"Having Leon around me is extremely grounding. If I’m worried or upset, I sometimes hold his face and look in his eyes and tell him that everything’s going to be okay, which makes me feel better. In effect, I’m reassuring myself. Some dogs get anxious when their guardian leaves the house, but for us, it’s the other way around. Leon is fine; I’m the one who gets anxious being away from him," she said.
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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