'Bad Vegan' Docuseries Is the True Crime Story of a Famous Restauranteur's Downfall

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Feb. 18 2022, Published 11:59 a.m. ET

‘Bad Vegan’ Docuseries
Source: Courtesy of Netflix

Most of the vegan documentaries on Netflix either tout the benefits of a plant-based diet, or showcase how destructive the meat industry is to the environment and animals. But Bad Vegan, a documentary series heading to the popular streaming service, is quite different: it’s actually a true crime docuseries about restaurateur Sarma Melngailis, also known as the vegan Bernie Madoff.

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The trailer for Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. just dropped, leaving many with questions about the docuseries — namely, what the heck is Sarma Melngailis’ meat suit?! Keep reading for what we know thus far about the upcoming docuseries, which seems like it will include original interviews with Sarma Melngailis herself.

Sarma Melngailis
Source: Courtesy of Netflix
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The new Netflix docuseries ‘Bad Vegan’ is the true crime story of Sarma Melngailis and her restaurant, Pure Food and Wine.

Sarma Melngailis was the owner of several vegan restaurants in the aughts; most notably, she owned Pure Food and Wine, a high-end raw vegan restaurant in the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan, which served customers from 2004 until it was shut down in 2015.

According to the Bad Vegan trailer, Pure Food and Wine was known as the top raw vegan restaurant in the world at the time, with celebrity customers including Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, and Jason Lewis. Alec Baldwin even met his now-wife Hilaria at the hotspot.

Sarma Melngailis was the “raw vegan queen,” and based on one staff account shared in the trailer, Pure Food and Wine was “such a great environment to work in.”

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Basically, everything was going really well for a while — until Melngailis married Anthony Strangis (who often went by the moniker Shane Fox), and the pair started stealing money from the restaurant.

Did Sarma Melngailis go to jail? She has been called the vegan Bernie Madoff.

‘Bad Vegan’ Docuseries
Source: Courtesy of Netflix

Eventually, Melngailis and Strangis allegedly cleared out the restaurant’s money, totaling almost $2 million, according to Vanity Fair, leaving the staff high and dry. They then fled New York, and Melngailis “disappeared for nearly a year” circa 2016, as she described on her personal website in 2019. That year of hiding ended with a 40-day stay in a Tennessee hotel. The pair remained under the radar until Strangis placed an order from Domino’s using his real name, leading law enforcement to promptly track them down.

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Sarma Melngailis went from being the raw vegan queen to the vegan Bernie Madoff, as she was called by both a talking head in the trailer, as well as by Benjamin Dictor, a lawyer representing 84 former employees of Pure Food and Wine, who were waiting to receive a joint $40,000, as per the New York Post in 2016.

Melngailis was freed from a four-month jail stint at Rikers Island in October 2017, where she served her time for fraud and grand larceny, as per the NY Post. She maintains that these crimes were entirely Strangis’ fault — you can read more of Melngailis’s perspective on this whole situation on her website.

Strangis served just under a year at Rikers Island for his crimes, and was released in May 2017 and given five years probation.

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What is Sarma Melngailis’ meat suit?

In the trailer, an off-camera voice asks one of the talking heads (who is presumably a former Pure Food and Wine staffer) if she knows about the meat suit. “What is the meat suit?” she responds, incredulously. “Oh no, what’s the meat suit? I’m gonna need a minute,” she adds with a laugh.

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The trailer doesn’t provide any further information on this supposed meat suit, though visions of Lady Gaga’s meat dress certainly come to mind. It seems unlikely that a devout vegan and animal activist like Melngailis would ever wear such a garment. However, meat suit is also simply a slang term for the human body, as per Slang Define. Plus, meat suit can be defined as a “physical body regarded as something being temporarily worn, e.g. when possessed by a spirit or demon,” according to Wiktionary.

Considering Melngailis’ supposed belief that Strangis could make her and her dog immortal, it wouldn’t be a surprise if her alleged meat suit was something spiritual.

How to watch 'Bad Vegan' on Netflix:

Those interested in finding out the full story of Melngailis’ supposed meat suit — and her downfall — will have to watch the four-part docuseries, which premieres on March 16 on Netflix. It's directed by Chris Smith, director of 2019's Fyre about the Fyre Festival.

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