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Rotten veggies

Documentary dishes on restaurant scam


Rotten veggies
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“Raw food! Raw deal!” chanted the employees of upscale Manhattan vegan eatery and celebrity hot spot Pure Food and Wine in 2015 when its owner, Sarma Melngailis, failed to pay them and went on the run with her husband, Anthony Strangis. Netflix has served up its own meatless entrée in Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.

Billed as a “true crime documentary,” the limited series plays more like a soap opera with the most foolish and odd characters. Strangis, for example, claims he will make Melngailis’ dog immortal.

In short: After Strangis meets Melngailis, he attributes his frequent absences to his “black ops” duties and involvement with “mysterious ethereal forces.” Strangis assures Melngailis and her dog a prosperous future and eternity. Meanwhile, he repeatedly cajoles her into wiring him cash to prove her loyalty. They marry, and the otherwise savvy entrepreneur drains her restaurant of $1.7 million to pass his “tests.”

Strangis never appears live in Bad Vegan (rated TV-MA for language); viewers hear and see his voice messages, texts, and emails—all expletive-laden. Melngailis’ former employees spill the tofu beans on their boss. And the photogenic Melngailis tells her side of the story in what feels like a post-prison PR push for sympathy.

In the third episode, the interviewer finally asks Melngailis some tough questions. Then you recognize two peas in the pod: The manipulative tactics Strangis used on Melngailis sound like the ones she used to string along her employees—and ­Netflix viewers.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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