overhead shot of a vegan mean on a table

She Taught Pub Patrons to Love Vegan Food

Portrait of Caroline Concha

Caroline Concha says she makes sure her food, menu, and restaurant feel like a second home for her customers. Photo courtesy by Beelman’s.

When Caroline Concha, executive chef of Los Angeles-based restaurant Beelman’s, learned that it would be changing its entire menu to fit a plant-based diet, she expected a challenge. Concha managed to flip Beelman’s — once famous for massive burgers and wings — into an all-vegan restaurant with a range of Asian-inspired offerings.

Concha admits she lacked enthusiasm for the idea at first. However, with determination, she started working on new creations for the L.A. pub. Her dedication to the new project paid off as the California-based Locale Magazine named her one of L.A.’s favorite female chefs for 2018.

Concha’s passion for food led to other successes. Despite skepticism for her chances, she earned the title Burbank Chef of the Year twice during her time at the eco-minded pub, Tony’s Darts Away. With so many notable chefs on the list, Concha didn’t think she’d win. But the contest was voted on by the public, and Concha feels honored that many locals appreciated her innovative menu.

Concha grew up in the Philippines with her grandparents and she describes her life as being a constant struggle. Most nights Concha ate Spam for dinner — the only food her family could afford. “We would eat whatever we could get our hands on,” Concha says. She worked to propel herself out of the neighborhood she was raised in, making beaded bracelets and selling them to her neighbors and friends.

Concha moved to the United States at 19 and worked as a caregiver before attending culinary school. Her upbringing and schooling didn’t inspire her to become a plant-based chef, but over time, Concha learned more about healthy eating and the impact food has on lifestyles through experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. “I’m not a vegan, but I’m about healthy eating and taking care of my body with what I eat,” Concha says. “That just happens to fall mostly into the vegan category.”

Concha first experienced cooking with plant-based foods at Tony’s Darts Away. During her five years at Tony’s, Concha worked her way up from busser to executive chef, cultivating her skills and knowledge of vegan food. She introduced her famous vegan chili, which won the 2015 Vegan Chili Cook-Off held at Tony’s. Her success at Tony’s gave Concha the opportunity to reinvent the food culture at Beelman’s.

interior shot of Beelman's restaurant

Beelman’s creates a community where vegans and non-vegans can experience a modern approach of the classic neighborhood pub. Photo courtesy by Beelman’s.

Before adding any item to the menu, Concha tries her creations to ensure every dish is what her customers want. “If it’s good enough for me, then it’s most likely good enough for my customers,” explains Concha.

Concha admits the reception for the new menu wasn’t warm at first. The regular customers wanted their classic burgers, but Concha knew people just needed time to come around.

“The people who were hesitant at first are now regulars,” Concha says. “And the best part is they always order something different.”

New customers flooded to the restaurant to try Concha’s latest creations like the Loco Moco Bowl. The popular jasmine rice bowl includes Concha’s signature “impossible meat,” garlic, napa cabbage, and ponzu with sweet chili Sriracha and sambal sauce. Concha believes part of the menu success comes from the personality she gives the item names on the menu such as (In a Galaxy) Farro Away, I Slaw the Sign, and That’s a Tasty Burger.

Concha incorporates pieces of her heritage into her work as a chef by using signature Asian sauces and vegetables within her dishes. This adds another dimension to her menu and attract patrons to Beelman’s. Following the success of the plant-based menu, Concha has set her sights higher — she hopes Beelman’s will expand and open a new restaurant.

In the future, Concha dreams of opening her own restaurant, preferably in L.A., a city she considers one of the most vegan-friendly in the world. Concha plans to keep up with the reputation of the city’s lifestyle with a restaurant that focuses on the food and, most of all, the people.

the Buddha bowl

Beelman’s new plant-based menu features the Buddha Bowl, which includes quinoa, mung bean, kale, crispy marinated tofu, pickled carrots and daikon, green papaya, spicy chickpeas tossed in a miso dressing, and topped with sambal chili paste. Photo courtesy by Beelman’s.

“I always want my restaurants to have a family atmosphere,” Concha says.

While Tony’s and Beelman’s offer two different pub experiences, Concha explains that both taught her the importance of team dynamics. Learning to coordinate with others made Concha understand the proper way to manage a restaurant as a head chef. Concha says she always wants to make sure her co-workers feel comfortable and the customers to feel like they are home.

“A restaurant goes beyond what’s on the plate. It’s about the person in front of it,” Concha says.


Banner photo courtesy of Beelman’s.

Kevin Van Pelt is a reporter for NEHA and was born and raised in New Jersey. During his time in the Garden State, Van Pelt wrote for Bleacher Report and was part of the promotions team at Townsquare Media. In his spare time, Van Pelt likes long walks on the beach and eating vegan ice cream.