Where is Sarma Melngailis now? Netflix's 'Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.' exposes a fire in the kitchen
In the four-part series, the audience learns how Melngailis was allegedly coerced into stealing $2 million from staff and investors
Netflix’s new docuseries 'Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.', set to release on March 16, gives us a peep into the life of restaurateur Sarma Melngailis. In the early 2000s, Melngailis' raw vegan restaurant 'Pure Food and Wine' became a celebrity hotspot. Her business, however, started to fall after she met her eventual husband Anthony Strangis.
In the four-part series, the audience learns how Strangis allegedly coerced Melngailis into stealing $2 million from staff and investors, leading to the business being shut down. While Melngailis pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges in 2017, Strangis denied the allegations. In 'Bad Vegan', Melngailis has spoken publicly about the events for the first time.
Where is Sarma Melngailis now?
Sarma Melngailis reportedly lives in Harlem now, and has no plans to reopen 'Pure Food and Wine', or start a different business. “I don’t want to reinvent myself, I want the self (and business) back that I had before,” she wrote on her blog in 2018. “But how in the world could that happen? I have no clue. If I think too hard about how messy the slate is, I end up wanting only to burrow under the covers in the dark and take a nap that lasts forever.”
Melngailis graduated with an economics degree from Wharton. She went on to obtain a culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute in 1999. She is known for having worked in various restaurants and has also written cookbooks. She opened 'Pure Food and Wine' in 2004, along with her then-boyfriend, chef Matthew Kenney. The restaurant, which reportedly had annual revenue of about $7 million, attracted celebrities like Anne Hathaway and Rooney Mara.
After Kenney and Melngailis broke up, she began talking to Anthony Strangis on Twitter around 2011. At the time, he was a stranger who had a criminal past and went by the name 'Shane Fox'. The two eventually married and Strangis reportedly assured Melngailis that he would help her with her business and try to make it become independent from “meddling investors". The money, however, never materialized. The two broke up and terminated a pregnancy.
"He told me if I was his wife I'd be more protected," Melngailis told Vanity Fair. "It was vague." Strangis allegedly coerced her into loaning him money, and Melngailis gave him over $1.2 million. He asked her the logins for her email, phone, and bank accounts and assured her that the money she was giving him was part of a series of “cosmic endurance tests” and that it would give them huge rewards.
"He convinced me I'd be empowered in ways I couldn't imagine," Melngailis added. "I could do all the world-changing things I'd been quietly dreaming about. I could help whoever I want, and stay young forever doing it." Her attorneys later claimed that she was the victim of “coercive control.”
After her restaurant closed in July 2015, both Melngailis and Strangis absconded. They were arrested on May 10, 2016. The two were accused of stealing $844,000 from four investors, failing to pay $400,000 in taxes, "shortchanging employees" $40,000 in wages and using the money to buy luxury goods.