Red Herring throws benefit concert

By Emily Sokolik

Tracy Earl worked quickly to fill the stomachs of a long line of eager customers. Plates were heaped with hot entr‚es, freshly baked garlic bread and green salads. At the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant, hungry patrons continued to arrive throughout the evening but latecomers were turned away as the supply of food dwindled.

A crowd of nearly 100 descended upon the Red Herring, 1209 W. Oregon St., for the Save the Herring benefit show Friday night. The fundraiser for the non-profit restaurant featured $5 plates of vegan food and live music from local groups including Greg Spero and Mit’n.

“I didn’t expect there to be this big of a response,” Earl, co-manager of the restaurant, said.

The Save the Herring benefit show was a new way for the eatery to garner support from the community and to boost business for the beginning of the school year, Earl said.

“At the end of the year, when we close for the spring semester, we’re always low on funds,” she said.

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Located in the basement of the Channing-Murray Foundation in Urbana, the restaurant opened in 1977 and is operated by a group of paid workers. Volunteers are also a fundamental component to the restaurant’s livelihood.

“Some people come in and they’ll help us with clean-up or prep or serving, and in return, they get a free plate of food,” Earl said.

The menu rotates daily with two entr‚es such as seitan stroganoff, a meat substitute served in a brown gravy sauce, and various pasta dishes. The meal also includes a choice of two to three soups, salad, bread and a dessert like chai chocolate chip muffins or Mexican wedding cookies.

All food is prepared on-site in the restaurant’s kitchen, Earl said.

Stephanie Fine, former employee of the Red Herring, said the restaurant attracts a wide range of patrons, including non-vegetarians.

“People who eat whatever and do whatever with their lives come here to have their one healthy meal during the week because it really is just good food,” she said.

Daniel Paquette of Champaign attended the benefit show to sample the cuisine. A first-time customer and vegan, his friends recommended the restaurant to him.

“I am a vegan for health, to discourage greedy destruction of the planet and because I love animals and I don’t want to torture them,” he said.

The Red Herring is the only vegan restaurant in the area. Veganism is a lifestyle whose adherents avoid all animal products.

In contrast, a vegetarian who does not consume meat or fish may continue to eat eggs, cheese, or butter.

Fine said a steady group of regulars frequent the Red Herring during the restaurant’s weekday hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“You don’t need to be a vegetarian to eat vegetables,” she said.

Earl said she hopes to attract a larger clientele to the Red Herring and wants to make the Save the Herring benefit show an annual event.