Unplugged: The energy
The Red Fern’s Andrea Parros is ready to dance again
The Red Fern
283 Oxford St.
What have you done about dancing with clubs closed for the shutdown?
Oh, did you find out that I love dancing? [Laughs] Definitely some at-home dance parties. Me and my dogs and big-screen TV with a virtual club. A lot of DJs stream their sets live on Saturday night at ten, and they’ll stream until two or three in the morning like normal, but now it’s just me and my dogs dancing. But I love it; I like to stay active, and I love dancing. It’s definitely not the same, but it’s close enough under the circumstances … For me, it’s the place where I really unload all of my anger and frustrations from my challenging job. Rather than yelling at people or being a total B, I translate this energy to the dance floor, and that’s where it goes and safely transforms. It’s also one of the very few times that I can have a break from work! As a business owner I am literally always on-call—when I’m there, I’m freeee! So, I’ve been able to still get that same kind of feeling.
Probably a lot different dancing with dogs!
Yeah, because they’re either looking at me like I’m crazy or they’re asleep [laughs]. So, I’ve been able to still get that same kind of feeling. Also a lot of the clubs are open just as bars now, so some of the places I like to go are open as a bar and I can go hang out with my club family, get a drink, and socially distance but enjoy the environment of the club.
In the interview I read you specifically mentioned Vertex. Where is that?
That’s on Chestnut Street, it’s considered a goth bar, but for me I’ve always identified with people who are a little different. So I’ve always liked being friends with different people who I find are more interesting. Your average show is kind of whatever, and I like learning about people who are different. There’s a lot of different characters who go there, so there’s never a dull moment … I like Vertex because, at your traditional East/Alexander clubs the MO is, especially for males, to approach females and just come right up into your personal space, grind up on you, and I’m not about that. I think a lot of females are not. So at Vertex it’s a very hands-off type of environment; you definitely need consent if you’re going to get in someone’s space. So there’s a lot of people just dancing solo, whether or not they’re a couple. There aren’t a lot of spaces like that.
How are your dogs when home alone?
So, it’s Booger and Worm. Worm can’t be outside his crate, he’ll chew everything. He’s a beagle and he’ll just chew everything, but Booger graduated to being outside his crate once he got baby Worm as his brother, and he’s been good. Hasn’t gotten into any trouble.
Why does Red Fern always have wine on sale?
Oh! It wasn’t before the shutdown. But when you go into a dine-in a restaurant, you pay extra to have a bottle of wine at your table. But now that we’re takeout only, it’s like, I can’t see people buying thirty dollar bottles of wine just to take home, you know? It’s different when you’re in a restaurant. Now they’re on sale because I’m like, people need wine right now [laughs]. Everyone’s going through it, so we might as well do our part to make something that takes the edge off a little more available. And the wine bottles to-go have been selling way more than they would if they weren’t on sale… People aren’t buying quite as much beer, but definitely adding bottles of wine to their order. Just anything to keep people having fun, because this year has been a hard time. And I say “this year” because I’m lumping this year in with last year, these two years, I guess, we’ll be saying eventually. So just trying to give people something to get excited about.
Where do you order from when you get takeout?
I love Pizza Wizard, they’re pretty new. They have vegan stuff. I love Voula’s—you know Voula’s? She’s on Monroe, close to Natural Oasis actually. It’s a Greek restaurant; It’s all vegetarian and they have a ton of vegan options too. I love Flavors of Asia for takeout, and moreso for dine-in, Tap and Mallet. They have a lot of awesome vegan stuff, but I definitely enjoy going there when you can sit down and have a beer with your food.
How long have you been vegan?
Since 2008, so … math … so, almost thirteen years [laughs]. Actually, it was in March of 2008, so about thirteen years.
After thirteen years, do you still smile whenever you hear “nut cheese”?
That doesn’t go away?
No. [laughs] Oh, that’s funny.
What do you look forward to about the summer?
Park Ave. Outside seating on Park Ave. I am so ready to be cranking again—safely, of course—but summers as a restaurant on Park Ave; it’s hard to explain to another restaurant owner who doesn’t have a spot there. It’s just very lively, bustling, a lot of energy, people walking up and down the street all day, every day. I love the feeling of it being busy, and people sitting outside and enjoying the nice weather. So, definitely looking forward to that. And hopefully some concerts this summer? I’m not sure, maybe with vaccinations people will be able to start seeing music again. That’s something I miss, and it’s definitely not the same as streaming. The crowd around you is a big part of it.
What were the last shows you saw before the shutdown?
Let’s see, I think I saw a Tool cover band… it’s easier to think of all the shows I didn’t get to see. I was going to see Rage Against the Machine this summer, Deftones, there’s a Talking Heads cover band that comes through town twice a year and they’re awesome. It’s always a good time. They’re called Start Making Sense. They’re fun.
When you moved to Rochester did you get involved in the local music scene?
Not tons. Leaving Boston, when I got here I was kind of like “Ooh, I wonder what the music scene is going to be like here,” because in Boston there were a lot of local bands that were pretty popular that people got into. When I got here, I was mostly looking to see, like, “is there anything even going on in Rochester?” I was coming from Boston and I was skeptical, like, “What is this little hicktown?” [laughs] and to me, people would be like, “I don’t want to drive into the city,” and I’d say, “what city?” and they’d be like, “here,” And I’d say “this is nothing!” And they’re like, “Oh, the parking,” and I’m like, “You had to walk a block? I’m sorry, you’d have to kill for a spot like that in Boston.” So I did have some adjustments in that way. I remember my first week here, a punk band called The Gaslight Anthem played at Water Street, and I was like “Okay, this place is gonna be alright,” because a band I liked came to town. But come to find out that only happens two or three times a year [laughs], so it was like “Okay, when’s the next time someone’s gonna come?” But I have seen some good shows here. I saw St. Vincent, Tool played at the bluecross arena, that was cool. So you’re close to Buffalo and Syracuse and it’s always okay to drive. Or even Toronto, I’ve driven there for shows a bunch of times too.
Do you play an instrument?
No, but I did go to school for music, which is funny. I studied music business, so I intended to either represent older music, like getting into reissues of older bands’ material, or I might have wanted to manage a smaller indie band. But when I was going to school—I went to Northeastern in Boston—and I was studying the music business, Napster came out halfway through my college career. And it just completely changed the industry, so while I was studying this industry that hadn’t changed in years, all of ta sudden they had this meteor hit it which completely changed the whole industry … So, I was like, “this seems like a good time to get the hell out of here.” So then of course I was like, “well what do I want to do? This is what I was going to do all my life,” so to bide time I started working at a restaurant in town. And the only available position was dishwasher … so that’s when I stepped into that place, and that was where the dominos all fell into place and took me here. When I look back it’s like, “Oh that makes sense; I see the whole path.” But it’s something I never would have done normally. I didn’t prepare for that; it was just organic happenings.
Interesting that you jumped ship from a dying industry and then became part of an emerging industry.
Yeah, and especially here in Rochester. At that time, when we came here to start Owl House, there were barely any mixed vegetarian-meat places. Barely even vegetarian, everything was your traditional restaurant. And the whole concept was, “Oooh, let’s blow people away by having fifty-percent vegetarian options on this menu,” and craft cocktails were a big new thing back then too. It’s crazy to think about, like, “Wow, these two things that are now very basic—craft cocktails and vegetarian options—were a big deal back then.” Yeah. And then to have taken the leap into an all-vegan place, that was also an eleventh-hour decision when I was opening Red Fern. It was going to be vegetarian to start, and I was vegan at the time and had been for several years but even then, it was risky. An all-vegan place, are you sure? Are you going to make it, are you going to have enough business? And ultimately [I] really said, if you do it right, no one will even know. No one will know the difference. If you make it that good, no one will even know. That was the goal, to make it that good that people who ate meat and dairy would still love it.
Do you think there’s a lot of room for more vegan restaurants in Rochester?
Yes. Absolutely. We are always sharing and posting, “oh we got vegan options from our friends at…” etc, and “tonight we’re having pizza from Pizza Wizard,” or “Roc City ramen has all these vegan options! Here’s a picture of everything we just got for our staff.” We’re always tagging people. That’s the goal, right? For us, the vegans, we want a one hundred percent vegan world. So we want every restaurant to be vegan. And I’ve always said, even if it ultimately puts my business under because all these other restaurants are doing so well and they’re crushing the game… that was the goal. So even if I went out of business, I would be happy because it would feel like, “That’s what we intended to do.” I say we, and I don’t have a partner, but I mean the collective we of me and my staff, and the energy behind it.
Reminds me of the expression, “rising tides raise all ships.”
Yes! Oh my god, I say this all the time. That’s how I feel. That’s what we want.
I wasn’t sure if it would be niche enough that having more would dilute the business for each individual business.
I don’t think so, because I think especially right now with the amount of rising that vegan itself is doing, I really think of 2019 being the era it really started to pick up exponentially. With Beyond, and Impossible, and now the major fast food chains working to have their own vegan options. Next year Taco Bell’s going to have Beyond. Starbucks is going to have vegan eggs, and all this stuff. That’s what’s going to turn the tides, having all these major companies now, realizing… or at the very least, thinking “shit, our competitor Burger King is doing well with this, we need our own vegan burger now.” So McDonald’s is supposedly getting one. But I’m like, they’re so slow! With corporate, things are so slow. That’s why I love being independent, I don’t have to run things by a board, I don’t have to run anything by a partner … and I think that really helps us because we can react so quickly to anything.
A couple of my vegetarian friends have told me BK’s impossible burger is different from the normal impossible burgers?
I’ve heard that. I think I’ve only had their ground beef from the store, I haven’t had their patty from the store. I had it at Burger King, but I really like their ground beef. I like it better than the Beyond, actually. It’s kind of funny to try all the things, and it’s like “I like this one’s ground beef, I like this one’s burger, I like this one’s cheese…” and all these options; we never had that before. It used to be like, you took the one shitty vegan cheese you could get and it was awful. All the products were terrible back in the day. That’s why I say it to everyone, this is the easiest time, you have no excuse. And the price point always coming down too. And there’s resources online, all these recipes for cooking vegan at home, and … it’s so available, now I’m like “What could possibly be your excuse?” The planet, your health, even if the animals are last on your list. Your health, and the planet. I think in another ten years we’ll look back and be like, “I can’t believe we ate meat.” Maybe not ten years, but I think it will shift. It’s going to have to if we even get that opportunity before the planet just implodes.
Are there any things that you think just do not translate to the vegan version well?
Hmm, let me think about this. I really can’t think of anything. I’ve definitely had poor translations, things that are just poorly executed, missed the mark, poorly seasoned, taste like plastic, or resemble nothing about what they’re saying they are, you know. I’ve definitely had that. But I can’t think of anything that can’t be translated well by someone who is good at it. Meringue was a hard one for a while, like lemon meringue pie. The little white airy stuff at the top of the pie. It’s usually eggs, but now with aquafaba—the water from the chickpea can—that actually represents eggs very well, so it’s really easy to make a meringue using that. That was semi-recent, maybe in the past five years of vegan cooking. Nobody knew that before, and I would always say “You can never get a vegan meringue.” But now you can!
Are there any houses you particularly admire when you drive by them?
Yes. In my neighborhood; I live kind of in the Park Ave area, but there’s a house at the end of Canterbury and Harvard, and it’s a super artsy house. The guy who lives there has all these little statues out of found things like rocks and sticks. Sometimes he’ll have a metal reindeer and he’ll put a little scarf around it. So I like that one. There’s also a house by the public market that has all this trashy, junky stuff but it’s all artsy. If you’re driving up Railroad Street, there’s a street that borders the parking lot behind it. On one of those backstreets. They have all these cool little things made with trash and found objects.
Do you celebrate Christmas?
Yeah, but mostly as a means of cooking for something. This year was just me and my boyfriend and our dogs. A lot of times we go back to see my folks around December, but they’re older and we didn’t want to travel with COVID. It was actually kind of a nice excuse to stay home and just do our own family stuff. I always do Greek Christmas, so there’s a dish called pastitsio—my mom calls it Greek lasagna, but it’s a tomatoey seasoned ground beef on the bottom, then it has noodles on top with a bechamel white sauce that holds them all together. To me, that’s a real challenge to veganize, and I’ve finally nailed it. But I only make it once or twice a year because it’s a little labor intensive. That was always a big challenge with cooking, once I first went vegan it was like, how do I veganize everything that I like eating? Because me turning vegan started as an allergy to milk. Everyone always says, “I would never give up the cheese,” and I was one of those people. Like, “I love cheese, what are you crazy, vegans are so extreme.” And I suddenly became allergic to gluten and dairy in my life. And gluten and dairy, as a vegetarian, that’s all you eat. Cheese, bread, pasta, bagels, everything I was eating I was allergic to now. I guess in hindsight it wasn’t sudden, but for me I didn’t know any of that was happening. I was just getting all these rashes and eczema. So what’s when I found out I was allergic to those two things, and then it became a challenge of eliminating those things and still being able to enjoy food.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m Greek, but Greeks love food and we love to cook and eat. And when so suddenly the joy is taken out of this thing that I love … to cook, share food with people, eat, go out with your friends. All of that, in theory, could have been taken, but I was like, “I have to get around this roadblock.” So that’s when I really started trying to learn how to cook more vegan stuff, and I also learned that people need to have a restaurant they can go to when they have allergies or food sensitivities. At the time, you’d go out to eat and be like, “I need something that doesn’t have gluten or dairy,” and in 2010, 2011, they’d like at you like “Who the fuck is this person? Get out. Get out of my restaurant.” So for me, I really wanted a place that you would never have to worry about being treated that way. Whether someone was conscious they were doing that … there would just be no reason for it. Like, “Come to us, you are the people we serve, whatever you got, we’ll do it.” And working at the Red Fern it’s been funny because there’s a lot of things that come up like, “Really… You’re allergic to red vegetables, huh? Welp, okay!” So we figure out how to exclude the beets, and the cabbage, and still give this person an enjoyable meal. And give them that extra special care. Because for me, food is like caring for someone. For me, it’s, “This is how I show you I care about you, I make something for you or I share something with you.” I’ve always loved sharing food. For someone who comes in and is really struggling to get a meal because they have all these sensitivities it’s a place they can come where they trust us, they know we know what we’re doing, they have all these allergy friendly menus, different modified preparations people can order … there was nowhere in Rochester for that before, but then there’s still so few places in the US that you can do that. So I really am proud of that, it’s a big deal.
A lot of famous people have visited Red Fern!
Yeah! Oh my god, I know. And it’s been a while, so I am bummed about that. Even before COVID it had probably been a year before anyone famous came through. I don’t know what it is, but we really did have some special visitors. Travis Barker from Blink-182, Steve-O, Mayim Bialik, Bruce Springsteen got a takeout so we never met him, but I did get to write him a note in the box which was cool. Some of the people from Weezer, Fall Out Boy ordered before AND after their show, so that was cool. I don’t know if it was Mastodon, or one of those metal bands .. And then we had some bands from other countries, too, like this band from australia. Oh and the Whalers. It was great. It’s cool, I think that when vegetarians and vegans are traveling and they google “Rochester vegan,” only us and Owl House come up. And they do their research and see that Red Fern is 100% vegan, so. Come here.
Do you really love Where the Red Fern Grows?
No, actually… [laughs] I read it once in school. And it wasn’t my favorite book or anything, but when I was trying to figure out names for the restaurant, I knew I wanted the inside to look naturey. I wanted sticks and tree bark and plants and stuff. So I was like, I want the name to have something to do with nature in some way. And it was a long time trying to figure out a name, but I was talking with my friend and he mentioned something about the book Where the Red Fern Grows, and I was like “Oh my god, that should be the name!” because not only does it have that nature component but when I remembered what the book was about, it’s a boy and his two dogs, and their life together. Basically, long story short—spoiler alert—the one dog dies protecting the other dog. And then it can’t really go on without this dog. So eventually they both get buried and between them grows a red fern and the red fern can only grow in a place that, like, angels planted it, basically. So it’s a spirited place and basically they were always going to watch over the boy. I love thinking about the afterlife, it’s always been curious to me. The idea of, what happens to us when we die, does our spirit go on, that type of stuff has always been interesting to me. And I don’t think anyone here ever has the answer, but it’s good to think about as we’re humans.
AND, you have two dogs!
Yes! Oh no, I don’t want them to die, I’m going to cry. Booger and Worm. Maybe I should bury them in the backyard and see what happens. When it’s time, I mean! When it’s time. [laughs]
It seemed like Red Fern was closed longer than most restaurants. How has it gone since opening back up?
We’ve been doing so well, considering. Sometimes I feel guilty because it’s like, oh my god, some of these other restaurants could use this business. But, I take it as a compliment that people really love our food, and I do think people feel the healing elements of it, you know? When you go to a restaurant you love and you love the people who work there and you eat their food, I think you consume the energy. I really do feel that the energy of what you put into food does translate to the person consuming it. On that same note, when the energy that you’re putting into the food is: you’re slaughtering something, taking it against its will, its last moments were suffering … I do believe that translates into you then, the human consuming it, and it’s not good for you. And I don’t mean just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, all that.
Everyone who works there, it may not be their first choice of what they want to do with their time but I feel that everyone who works there really does enjoy the environment. We have a workplace, and even if you are doing hard work, you’re still not working under a boss who’s a dick. That’s definitely not me. You’re working with your peers. For the most part everyone gets along, and if they don’t that person will kind of spin out. We’ve had really good energy over the past couple years. When we first started I would say it wasn’t awesome. But there are a lot of challenges for me as a business owner, as a boss, at the beginning because I was much younger than I am now. Much less experienced at this entire job. You kind of have to learn along the way as you have these shitty experiences. You learn from those. And those are some of the best experiences, actually. They might have been really painful at the time or caused a lot of disruption, but those are the things you take the most value from, and you know your limit. Like, I’m never going there again, so you need things that protect you from those things happening again. But it’s great, I have such an amazing team now, we have thirty to forty people … we have service staff, kitchen staff, prep workers; the people who make a dish don’t make each element of it. The prep team makes the kale, makes the tofu, you know. And then there’s the bakers—between seven and ten bakers. They’re all part time for the most part, but at any given point we’d have like five bakers on at a time. Wholesale accounts, sell our cookies to coffee shops and what not. And that’s crazy to think about. I am a boss of forty people.