Moby, the iconic music mogul and guru of philanthropic vegan meatballs, made his charitable efforts bi-coastal by opening a 100% organic, vegan, non-profit restaurant in Silver Lake, California called Little Pine. Opening a restaurant, especially in a metropolitan city, is a notoriously risky and difficult way to make money. But when the owner doubles as a multi-platinum artist with eleven records under his belt, the odds for success aren’t as linear. Especially when that artist is used to bucking trends and decides to defy traditional money-making margins—all profits of Little Pine are donated to charity. Moby being a 28-year long vegan and outspoken animal activist, ensures the eatery’s donations go to animal welfare organizations like Mercy For Animals, The Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, and PETA. A restaurant that forks over 100% of its profit to help animals is unconventional, but it’s probably not surprising to those familiar with Moby’s long history of giving back. Eating at Little Pine will help protect animals for years to come, so why not put your dining dollars towards a good cause.
The eco-friendly bistro combines a quaint Scandinavian, mid-century modern feel, while retaining the friendly and homey vibe of eating in your own dining room with friends. With hand-curated menu items like house-made Italian cassoulet, Mediterranean avocado salad, stuffed shell trio, broccoli arancini, roasted tomato agnolotti, its options appeal to vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike. The cozy 60-seater restaurant feels almost like a warm, effortless extension of the community. We spoke with Moby about being a compassionate restaurateur, the reasons for being vegan, and his upcoming memoirs.
Why the decision to open a vegan joint? I heard it was partially to combat “joyless veganism”?
Yeah, there still are a lot of people who assume that veganism involves a dower, sad, militant approach to food and life. Ideologically, I’m pretty militant, but when it comes to going out to eat, I love the idea of eating beautiful food in a nice place. I don’t want to sit in a basement and eat a plate of cold rice with mashed yeast. I wanted to create a well-designed, nice, normal restaurant that just happens to be vegan.
You’ve successfully run your cafe Teany in NY for thirteen years, but do you feel it’s is a harsh climate to open a fledgling restaurant, especially a charitable vegan one?
Restaurants are time-consuming, real expensive, and rarely do they work. So if you’re looking to make a ton of money, a restaurant is the worst possible thing you could do. But Little Pine is a non-profit, so any money that’s generated goes to animal welfare organizations. I can never make a penny from this. I’m looking for something that’s in my neighborhood where I can hang out, where my friends can hang out, where I support organic farmers, where I can represent a good side of veganism, and at the end of the day, hopefully generate some money for animal welfare. I truly hate self-promotion and trying to encourage people to pay money for something of mine makes me really uncomfortable. But encouraging people to spend money at a restaurant where the profits go to animal welfare, that I have no problem promoting.
How important to you was the restaurant’s design, did you have a hand in its architecture?
I have to enjoy the process of designing it, creating it and curating it, otherwise why bother. It’s different if I was making a product that I was going to sell, a thousand miles away, having no contact with it—then I could have something more generic and less personal. But I’m at the restaurant every day, so the ethos and aesthetic of it should definitely be something that resonates with me. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but I feel like in modern life, there’s so much anonymity. There’s the K-Marts of the world, so many huge chains and corporations and products and services that we use that are completely anonymous, that there’s something nice when you step into a place that’s clearly personalized. There’s no focus group, research or second-guessing. I’m not trying to think how the aesthetic here will work with other people, in terms of brand development. It’s simply, do I like it, or do I not like it.
Why did you decide to be vegan, and how has that evolved over almost three decades?
Veganism as changed so much. Being a vegan twenty-eight years ago was a difficult thing. If you had talked to me when I was eighteen, before I became a vegan, I would’ve proudly identified as an animal lover, but I ate at Burger King all the time. It’s almost like a synaptic disconnect. There was part of my brain that loved animals and another part that loved burgers. What’s fascinating about vegan activism is that you can represent it in many different ways. People can choose to be vegan for issues of animal welfare, for climate change, for environmentalism, for rainforest deforestation, for personal health, for longevity, for beauty—there’s so many different reasons for why someone’s a vegan. A lot of public figures have been really wary of being outspoken about animal rights or veganism, because you alienate people. The moment you identify as vegan or an animal rights activist, people get pissed off. It’s also especially odd with people who love their dogs or cats, who get really upset at you for caring about animals. You love animals, but you’re also ok with them suffering? It’s so paradoxical, I can’t make sense of it.
Tell me about your upcoming memoir Porcelain, it’s about the struggles at the beginning of your career, right?
Yeah, the decade between 1989 - 1999. In New York, where the book starts, I’m squatting in an abandoned factory in a crack neighborhood, making $4k a year with no running water and no bathroom. For the first five years of the book, I’m in this degenerate rave scene, but I’m a sober, vegan, very serious Christian. Then halfway through the book, I go to this other extreme of binge drinking, blacking out, dating strippers, and doing drugs. The one thing that never waned was the veganism. I lose my record deal, my mom dies, I start battling debilitating panic attacks, and at the end of the book, my career’s basically over. But then Play [the album that went on to sell over 12 million copies] comes out. The last page of the book is about the release of the album Play, but at that point, I thought my career was done. I wrong about that.
Was it hard writing about yourself?
The writing process was so unbelievably psychedelic and seductive, writing about the past was like revisiting history in the most consuming way. There were a lot of times where I’d be writing about 1990 or 91, and I’d look up from my laptop and have this moment of cognitive dissonance where I’d forget that it was 2014/2015. Like in my mind, when I was writing it, it was 1991. So I’d have these weird moments where I’d be writing about blacking out on tour in 1996 in Eastern Europe, and I’d look up and remember “oh, that’s right, I’m sober—it’s 2014 and I’m drinking white tea in California.” It literally felt like time and distance travel.
Was it cathartic for you once it was done and you had it all written out?
I don’t know if cathartic is the word—it’s interesting because when it’s about something that happened 15-20 years ago, you gain a perspective. You gain perspective and some objectivity on the past and, at some point, I will hopefully have that same objectivity and perspective on what’s going on now. Not to state the obvious, but at some point this will be the past. In the same way I look back at myself when I was twenty-six years old as this very naive, nervous kid, it’s quite possible ten years from now, I’ll look back at me now and feel the same way. Just remembering that whatever’s going on in the present, at some point will be softened and calmed by time and distance.