This year, more than 80,000 Americans vowed to observe Veganuary, a month of foregoing meat, dairy, egg, and animal products. And in a moment of perfect collision, it was also this month that I managed to get my hands on both Isa Moskowitz and her head chef at Modern Love, Liam Smith.
While Omaha has slowly sprouted a number of innovative vegan options in the last several years, there is no forgetting that it was Omaha’s cool Aunt Isa who made vegan fun, practical, and incredibly delicious.
In addition to publishing ten cookbooks, and regularly releasing recipes on her website, Moskowitz is serving up creative comfort food at Modern Love . Her approach focuses on the fun, the flavors, and the accessibility of vegan living in Omaha’s rich culinary landscape.
When Modern Love initially opened near the end of 2014, the only way to get a seat was by reservation. The small spot was so popular that diners would wait weeks for an opportunity to dig into a dish of mac and ‘shews. Modern Love would eventually find a more accommodating space at 3157 Farnam.
But when Moskowitz saw a novel and unpredictable virus find its way to Omaha, she took immediate and decisive action.
“We didn’t want to wait until people started showing up sick.” Moskowitz recalled. “It was a hard call to make, but I couldn’t put my team at risk like that. They work so hard, and I had to look out for them any way I could.”
She made the decision to close her dining room long before officials mandated it, allowing her and her team the time to communicate the best course of action.
“We had already been playing with some ideas about how to go about ramping up our take-out service. By the time we were ready to reopen, we had a really good grasp on the best way to keep serving.”
But reopening the dining room remained off the table.
“Of course, I’ve got bills to pay and I’ve got customers to serve, but I also have this staff to think of. And I know that sometimes I drive them crazy but they are here because they love what we do.”
Moskowitz and the team have been functioning like a well-oiled machine ever since. The doors are closed completely to diners. Staff is prepping by 6am to serve by 11. Orders are placed online or by phone, and Modern Love’s team prepares each meal with the same love and passion as before. Meals are then no-contact delivered (in compostable to-go containers from Larsen Paper) to your waiting car’s hood or trunk and you’re on your way.
“There was a lot of internal negotiating about how to keep serving the way we wanted to, and there were a few concessions. We let go of a few menu items that are simply not designed to travel, as well as a few of our more expensive items. Then we lowered our prices as much as we could, we know it’s been hard for a lot of people.”
Isa throws a great deal of credit for her restaurant’s continuing success to her Head Chef Liam Smith.
“There are times I’ll call Liam, knowing how much work they just put in and how stressed they are, and I’ll have some crazy idea pop up. And every time, Liam comes right back with this amazing, positive attitude – ‘Of course this is the best time to introduce gnocchi to the menu!’”
Liam laughs at the compliment, insisting that their can-do attitude is a source of good-hearted chagrin among friends and co-workers.
“My nightmare is a slow day. I love a challenge, and go into each one assuming that something has to go wrong in any given day. I just accept it and go for the gold. But I love a challenge, and Isa always has one ready for me!”
“Modern Love and what we do here is just so special. I feel like every plate I’m serving is making a positive impact, saving an animal’s life, promoting a better choice about where Omahans put their money. Every spark I can light keeps me going.”
And for client complaints, they’ve been almost suspiciously sparse – until you consider who the clientele happens to be.
“You don’t have to be vegan to start looking at ways to make little changes.” Liam posits. “A lot of our diners aren’t vegan, but they know that they can trade just one dish and it has an impact. They are making a difference, moving toward a more compassionate space. We just have the absolute best customers we could ask for. They are kind, thoughtful, mindful. They’re not the kind of people looking for a problem, they’re the kind of people looking for a better solution.”
“None of this would be possible without the years Isa put into building relationships, writing her books, podcasts, her blogs, and creating a following. She is so passionate about what we’re doing, and what more we could be doing.
For more about Modern Love’s mission, to see their Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day specials, or to begin your veg-lust journey, follow along on Instagram at @ModernLoveOmaha or visit WWW.ModernLoveOmaha.Com