Quebe Merritt never intended to open a restaurant. She’s done a lot in her life. Notably, she’s an author and an educator. She’s also an Auburn grad who earned her doctorate in education on the Plains in 2015. But restaurants? That wasn’t exactly on the menu for her.
However, with the recent opening of Plant Bae Express in Opelika, Merritt is now the proud owner of two vegan restaurants. She opened the first Plant Bae in Montgomery, her hometown, in 2020. She opened her Opelika restaurant, located at 2816 Pepperell Parkway, just last week.
“I never thought that I would open a restaurant, but people were really wanting me to make the food for them,” Merritt said. “So, I started doing catering and meal prep for people and it blossomed into opening a restaurant so that people could get plant-based food pretty much whenever they wanted.”
Merrit says cooking for friends grew out of the vegan lifestyle she began living in 2016. She was a pescatarian before that — someone who eats mostly plants, but also eats fish and dairy for protein. Her journey as a pescatarian, though, started in a rather uncomfortable place: an airplane seat on a trip to Australia with Auburn University.
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“We were on airline Quantas and the seats were so narrow, and I realized I needed to slim down a little,” Merritt said. “While in Australia, I had so much access to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh fish, and so I decided to adopt the pescatarian lifestyle. When I returned to Sydney the next summer, I was about 50 pounds lighter after following a pescatarian lifestyle.”
Those two summer trips, taken with the university in 2011 and 2012, led Merritt to eat healthier. However, the birth of her second child in 2015 led her to cut out all meat as well. She turned to a total vegetarian diet, saying it accommodates her nursing daughter’s health, as well as her own health.
“Cutting meat and dairy was instrumental to me in being able to nourish my daughter and reduce my cholesterol,” Merritt said. “It was my health, my daughter’s health, as well as just concerns about animals and the environment.”
Eventually, Merritt began cooking vegan dishes for friends and family, which ultimately led to her opening Plant Bae.
After opening her first restaurant in Montgomery, Merritt began to gain a lot of attention. She said people would drive to the Montgomery location from Auburn, Opelika and Georgia just for her food. With that in mind, it made since to her to open a location near her alma mater.
“They would tell us ‘Guys, when are you going to open an Auburn location?’ I just listened, you know?” Merritt said. “We had customers also from the Columbus area. And so, just tracking where our customers were coming from, I realized that we could have a convenient location for them in Auburn.”
Both restaurants serve plant-based versions of American staples such as vegan burgers, the Beyond Meat Burger, vegan Philly cheesesteak, vegan nachos, and vegan chili. They also make Apple Bae coleslaw, and gluten-free bowls.
Plant Bae has even gained both national and regional recognition for its products. USA Today has named Plant Bae as one of the top 20 vegan restaurants in the Southeast. PETA also named Merritt’s chili as one of the top vegan chilis in the country. In October, The Samaritan Counseling Center in Montgomery also recognized Plant Bae as the 2022 recipient of the River Region Ethics and Business and Public Service Award for Small Businesses.
“I’m so thankful, though, to be in Auburn,” Merritt said. “We’ve already had a large outpouring from the community and we’re so excited to continue in Auburn/Opelika.”
Merritt said the one thing people ask her the most about the restaurant, though, is the name.
“A lot of people are curious about the name Plant Bae,” she said. “And so the Bae is just a common term of endearment, meaning that it’s someone that you care about. And so, we want Plant Bae to be a place that you would bring your bae, you know, someone that you care about to eat good food. Or you can be your own bae and treat yourself so to some delicious vegan food.”
Meanwhile, Merritt is just happy to be back in the Opelika-Auburn metro.
“I love the reception in Auburn,” Merritt said of her time studying here. “It was such a great city, and it’s just up the road. And I just remember the Auburn Creed, you know? ‘I believe in Auburn and love it.’ And I said gosh, I’d have to go back to Auburn to open the second location just a few miles away from campus. So, we’re now five miles from the campus.”
Plant Bae Express is open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information, visit plantbae.net.