How Sarma Melngailis Used Her Bad Vegan Money

In Netflix's new series, "Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.," viewers learn the story of Sarma Melngailis, a woman once dubbed the "queen of vegan cuisine" for the overwhelming success of her plant-based New York City restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. However, this success couldn't save her or her empire after she began funneling money from her business to her former husband, Anthony Strangis. Melngailis was never able to get a clear answer from Strangis about where this money was going; viewers of the show will learn that he wove an elaborate story about testing her faith in him and promising immortality for her pet dog (via Vanity Fair).

As money continued to drain from the restaurant's accounts, the staff at Pure Food and Wine saw their paychecks become inconsistent and eventually bounce at the bank. Staff who spoke out about the problems were fired. When Melngailis would not help, her employees were forced to stage walkouts to bring attention to their plight. By the time Melngailis and Strangis were arrested and convicted of their financial crimes in 2016, her employees were owed more than $40,000 in unpaid wages. Now that the show has aired, Melngailis recently made a post on her personal blog about the what she did with proceeds from the documentary series.

Melngailis insists she is not profiting from the series

Sarma Melngailis hadn't shared anything on her SarmaRaw blog in three years, since shortly after she was released from prison in 2017. Her new post appeared on the same day that Netflix released "Bad Vegan," and it shares that she's now ready "to address one issue." Documentary subjects don't typically get paid, but "Bad Vegan" producers, Melngailis writes, "made an exception so that I could pay the total amount my former employees were owed." She goes on to clarify that Netflix producers gave the payments to an attorney, who then sent the money to lawyers representing the former employees of Pure Food and Wine. Melngailis writes that she will claim these funds as income for tax reasons but stresses that she's not profiting from the "Bad Vegan" series. People contacted Netflix to confirm this arrangement but hasn't heard back at the time of writing. 

It's unclear if the money was enough to fully reimburse her former employees' unpaid wages; she writes that the funds were "just a small part of what remains outstanding." Esquire shares that the total of Melngailis' debts in the aftermath of the scandal are in excess of $6 million. She writes about these debts, saying, "I'll keep working towards addressing it all."