The wild story behind shocking new Netflix true crime documentary Bad Vegan

The multimillion dollar con fell apart over a pizza order, and the doc is out now


If you’re looking for a wild true crime documentary that might just blow your mind, Netflix has provided us with Bad Vegan – which is definitely just that. From Chris Smith, the executive producer of Tiger King and director of Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, this four-part docuseries tells what could easily be the wildest story you’ve ever heard.

It tells the story of New York’s top raw vegan restaurant and a celebrity restauranteur whose huge empire fell apart when she met a man on Twitter who promised her the world. Quite literally, he allegedly said he could make all her money worries go away, and even make her dog live forever, if she gave in to all his demands. It soon turned into one of the wildest cons you’ve ever heard of, and it all fell apart when they ordered a pizza.

Here’s everything you need to know about new true crime documentary Bad Vegan: Fame, Fraud, Fugitives on Netflix, including all the details of the real life story it is based on. Strap in, this is a lot.

The true story of Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis as told in Bad Vegan crime documentary on Netflix

Sarma Melngailis, via Netflix

Bad Vegan on Netflix is based on the wild true story of celebrity restaurateur Sarma Melngailis

Bad Vegan tells the story of a celebrity restaurateur, Sarma Melngailis, who was once hailed as the queen of vegan cuisine. She became a fugitive when she went on the run with a man who conned her out of a fortune by convincing her he held the key to making every dream — from expanding her food empire to making her beloved pitbull immortal — a reality. Yes, really.

Melngailis owned American raw vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine, which opened in New York City in 2004. It soon became the top raw vegan food restaurant at the time and promised a “high end, fine dining vegan experience”. The restaurant also became known as being a celebrity hotspot, with diners including Owen Wilson, Bill Clinton, Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson. However, the empire came crashing down when Sarma Melngailis met Shane Fox.

She met Shane Fox in 2011, after he reached out on Twitter. After this, Melngailis began draining her restaurant’s funds and funnelling the money to Fox, when he conned her into believing he could make her dreams come true. He was really called Anthony Strangis and said he could only make her wishes a reality is she continued to obey all his requests without question. When Strangis and Melngailis started talking, he had told her she had to perform tests, and he could make her dog Leon immortal. The pair worked together on her lucrative food business.

The true story of Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis as told in Bad Vegan crime documentary on Netflix

Anthony Strangis, via Netflix

A year later the couple married, and they were later on the run from police after stealing nearly $2million from the restaurant and its staff. The money from the business had started going directly into Strangis’ pocket, who threatened that if Melngailis stopped, she’d lose everything. According to Vanity Fair, Melngailis “transferred more than $1.6million from her business accounts to her personal bank account, and Strangis spent $1.2million of this money at Connecticut casinos.”

In 2015 they went completely off-radar, wanted for fraud and violation of labor laws. Staff, vendors, and landlords unionised and walked out on the company, after the couple’s stealing led to them having unpaid wages. They were found in 2016 by law enforcement, holed up in a Tennessee motel. What had caught up with them and made their whereabouts known was a charge made under Fox’s real name (Strangis) for a Domino’s pizza. Again, yes, really.

Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis found themselves charged with accounts of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal tax fraud, first-degree scheme to defraud, violation of labor and other crimes, and faced up to 15 years in prison. Melngailis accepted a plea deal and and was sentenced to serve four months in jail plus five years’ probation. Strangis pleaded guilty to four counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree and was reportedly sentenced to one year in jail and five years of probation. He was also told to pay $840k in restitution to investors he was charged with defrauding.

The true story of Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis as told in Bad Vegan crime documentary on Netflix

via Netflix

The documentary interviews many people involved in the case – including Sarma Melngailis herself, journalist Allen Salkin and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow. Allen Salkin is a food critic, who wrote about his time at Pure Food and Wine for Vanity Fair. Jeffrey Chodorow in short is a “mega-restaurateur” and was the money behind Pure Food and Wine.

Watch the trailer for ‘Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.’ on Netflix here:

Bad Vegan is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

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