In early 2020, Taylor Riley-Parham was unhappy working as a grill cook at a local McDonald’s — especially because she is vegan. While flipping hamburgers, the young College of Southern Nevada culinary student would imagine that she was preparing her own vegan patties. “Then it just clicked,” she says. “I decided that I was going to do my own thing.” So the ambitious (then) 20-year-old quit her job, dropped out of school, and set out to open Vintage Vegan Diner with the mission to usher “the new era of vegan food” by making it convenient and affordable.
Despite launching in the midst of the global pandemic last May, success literally happened overnight. One evening, her life and business partner, Tumn Parham, tweeted a simple announcement and menu with no pictures on their personal account with 600 followers. The pair started by offering a selection of vegan sliders, tofu bites, “chicken” tenders, and fries for delivery. The next morning, Tumn woke up to a growing count of 500 retweets and 9,000 likes. At best, they were expecting a few family members to place orders, but the demand was huge, and the couple was overwhelmed. “I had just learned how to make bread two nights before,” Riley-Parham laughs.
The duo worked tirelessly to fulfill the demand. They recruited family members to help them do deliveries, and they bent over backward to meet every special request. But as sales grew, so did their confidence, and they soon learned that needed to establish boundaries to keep their sanity. “We had to unlock the mindset of seeing ourselves at a certain level to attract the things that we want,” Parham says. As the more cautious and practical one of the pair, the 24-year-old Vegas-born local kept their full-time marketing job at the Rio while working evenings and weekends for Vintage Vegan Diner before leaving the Rio last July.
“Last year we saw a super increase in sales, views, and follows when everyone was using the Black Lives Matter hashtag,” says Parham, who was initially hesitant to picture their brown hands in any social media for fear of deterring some of their core audience. However, the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged them to come out from the shadows. “Between being Black, gay, and female, we have a laundry list of why people should support us, but I want people to support us for what we make. I want them to know that it’s quality food that is made from scratch, and it’s sold for a great price point.”
After a summer of insanity and a very busy fall and winter, the couple felt the onset of burnout and made the decision to stop delivering hot food last February. They moved their business online by offering their items frozen in eco-friendly packaging, and to their delight, their loyal base stuck with them. And for good reasons: Besides checking so many boxes when it comes to diversity, all of the items offered by Vintage Vegan Diner are familiar in flavor and approachable in price — everything on their website is $5 or less. The sliders, described by Riley-Parham as “buttery, fluffy, flakiness,” are by far the most popular dish. All of the ingredients — bread, smoked and marinated seitan turkey, cashew cheese, garlic vegan butter — are made entirely from scratch. However, the first item that was created was the tofu bites that they offer in four flavors: original, Buffalo, lemon pepper, and barbecue. In fact, before moving forward with Vintage Vegan Diner, they had toyed with the idea of “Tumn & Taylor Tofu Bites.” They also have an edible cookie dough that is flying off the shelves since its introduction.
To make their vegan food more accessible, Riley-Parham came up with the idea to create a vegan vending machine inspired by her memories of a vending machine where she would buy ice cream at Chuck E. Cheese as a child. “We ended up buying the exact same one,” Riley-Parham says. “The manifestation is real!” After a grueling path to obtain permits from the health district, the bold pink machine was introduced on April 24 at Fergusons Downtown, where a line of eager consumers formed when it was getting delivered. It sold out the first day, and they gained 300 followers on Instagram, making it a brilliant marketing vehicle to drive people back to their website, where they sell all of the same foods. They initially planned that the machine would pop-up in different places, but they decided to establish a permanent home at the former Downtown motel now filled with shops based on its popularity. The current plan is to restock it every Friday morning, although it is usually sold out almost immediately.
As the company just celebrated its first anniversary on May 1, the co-owners keep their focus on the big picture. “Our dream for Vintage Vegan is to have a drive-thru,” Riley-Parham says. “We want it to be fast food, but vegan. Our food is made for the people who don’t yet know what being vegan really means.”
In search of adventure and possible locations for future drive-thrus, Taylor and Tumn will soon embark on a year-long road tour in their restored 1996 Roadtrek Class B camper van. While on the road, they hope to connect with lower-income people of color to help shatter vegan stereotypes. But Vegas vegans need not fear. After getting their fill of van life, the duo plans to return to where their journey started. “We really want to give back to the community that has shaped us and our business,” Parham says. “We’ll always want to shed more light on veganism here. The scene is growing so quickly, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”