A new Netflix document series aims to explain how a New York restaurateur unlawfully diverted funds from her restaurant so that her lover could pay it to a semi-divine entity promising eternal life.
Pure Food and Wine was an elite raw vegan restaurant that opened in 2004 and quickly became a celebrity hangout over the next few years.
Sarma Melngailis, the restaurant’s co-founder, was already well-known in the culinary world at the time.
By 2015, however, the restaurant and some of Sarma’s other businesses were suffering, and Sarma appeared to be out of the country.
‘Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives,‘ is a Netflix documentary that delves into what happened at that time and how she ended up on the run from the cops. So, how about we find out where she might be today?
Sarma Melngailis: What Happened to Her?
Sarma was raised in Newton, Massachusetts, and earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School in Philadelphia. She decided to pursue her ambition of working in the food industry after working at a handful of investing firms.
Sarma received her diploma from the French Culinary Institute in New York in 1999. In 2004, she and Matthew Kenney, a noted chef and her then-boyfriend, established Pure Food and Wine in Manhattan, New York.
Matthew, on the other hand, left the restaurant in 2005, leaving Sarma in charge. Matthew sold his part in Pure Food and Wine to Sarma, according to the episode. Over the next few years, the restaurant prospered, and she opened One Lucky Duck, a raw vegan juice bar and takeaway in New York City.
The eatery, however, was forced to close in 2015 after employees launched a walkout since they hadn’t been paid since December 26, 2014.
Sarma had been vacationing in Europe instead of the United States at the time. Employees were perplexed as to why she wasn’t present at the time; the only explanation they received for the lack of pay was Sarma’s statement that it was due to a bank switch.
“What a lot of people and even the staff don’t realise is that the restaurant has a very tangled past, and from day one has had an incredible amount of debt on the books,” she stated in a February 2015 interview.
When people see a bustling restaurant, they automatically assume I live in a spacious penthouse, which is completely false. There have been times when I have not paid my own rent in order to make payroll.”
When her employees walked out, Sarma said that she was looking into alternatives to improve the budget. She has been married to Anthony Strangis since December 2012, after meeting him on Twitter a few months prior.
After a peculiar chain of circumstances, Sarma and Anthony were apprehended in Sevierville, Tennessee, in May 2016, after nearly a year on the run. Many of those who had been following the case closely were astonished when the storey broke.
Authorities suspect Sarma transferred about $1.6 million from the company to her personal bank account, with Anthony spending more than $1 million of the money at Connecticut casinos.
Aside from that, the pair spent $80,000 on fancy watches, $70,000 on European holidays, and owing $40,000 to staff. Sarma was charged of defrauding investors and failing to pay taxes, according to the prosecution.
Sarma’s defence then argued that Anthony had her under his control and compelled her into doing things. Sarma accused Anthony of raping her and referred to him as a manipulative liar in previous texts between the two.
He explained that the money she kept paying him was part of a series of studies he was conducting. Sarma’s debt would be forgiven if she died, and she and her pet dog, Leon, would become eternal.
The defence sought to establish that Anthony was abusive to Sarma and had him under his control.
Many questioned how Sarma could be so easily duped, but her defence said she was “depressed and untrusting of her own inner truth.” Sarma pleaded guilty to grand larceny, tax fraud, and conspiring to defraud in May 2017.
She was sentenced to a four-month prison sentence followed by a five-year probation period when she was 44 years old. Sarma was freed from Rikers Island Prison in New York on October 6, 2017. She filed for divorce from Anthony in May 2018.
What is Sarma Melngailis Doing now
Despite the events, Sarma remained optimistic about reopening her restaurant and making amends with her former staff and investors. Sarma has remained in New York City since her release, sharing a residence with her dog, Leon, and a friend.
She is quite active on social media, constantly posting images of Leon. Sarma was also working on a podcast as of February 2022, though it was uncertain when it would be broadcast.
Sarma was candid about her mistakes and experiences after her release. She talked of dealing with a maelstrom of other emotions after her release, despite the first thrill of elation and relief. “I’m humiliated, and still somewhat bewildered, as well as unhappy, indignant, and more,” Sarma added.
The debts I’m liable for are so large that they seem absurd.” Sarma also intends to write about what happened in the aim of assisting others. She discussed leaving New York City to concentrate on her memoir in a 2019 interview.
Following her release, Sarma went into great depth about her guilt and how she believed she had accidentally injured people. For the time being, the former restaurateur is focusing on repairing her life and repaying her debts.
Sarma got several messages from supporters and well-wishers while in prison, as well as books to read. She has continued to be a bookworm following her release, as seen by her social media.
Click here to watch Netflix original show “Bad Vegan: Fame, Fraud, and Fugitives”.