How One Queenstown Restaurant Made an Awesome Comeback After a Vegan Fail

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To Whom It May Concern:

“I wanted to write an email to you instead of posting to your social media or on Trip Advisor as I didn't want to be responsible for tarnishing your wonderful reputation in Queenstown.” 

That’s how my email post-dinner at Sherwood in Queenstown started.  Eek.

I’d never written an email like that before.  I was pretty stressed out about sending it, which I told them in said email: “I've also been quite torn about sending this email in general, but I thought you guys might appreciate it as constructive criticism rather than a negative review.”

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Let’s set the scene.

Nick and I decided to go out to dinner on our first “official” date somewhere in Queenstown, New Zealand, where we live.  We had never actually been out on a real date even though we had been dating for a few months.   Not only was it our first night out to eat as a couple, it was also my first time eating in a restaurant as a new vegan.  I’m not shy, so I have no problem speaking up, but I hate feeling like a pain when ordering something customized.

We decided on Sherwood for our dinner date, a community restaurant/hotel that encourages you to connect with yourself and nature. Their restaurant embodies a reputation founded on well-being, wholesome ingredients, and an earthy connection.

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With thoughtful intentions, my boyfriend called Sherwood in advance to make a reservation and to ensure they were able to provide vegan options for me.  The manager assured him over the phone that there were plenty of options to suit my needs and politely warned us that there was a sold out comedy show on later that evening that would need the dining space. We understood completely. 

I grew excited to go to a place with a foundation so connected to nature as I started forging my way into this plant-based diet. I had high expectations.

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When we arrived, the manager greeted us kindly and told us we would have a "plant-based guru" for a server, so she would be perfect to talk me through the menu and the available options.  The server was lovely and told me the seemingly wide array of things that could be made vegan, which made me very happy. I tossed up a few options and finally ordered. 

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A few minutes passed and she came back to tell me my choice wasn't available and I would have to pick something else. I sent in my second order totally understanding, as a fellow hospitality worker, that restaurants run out of ingredients -- no big deal.  Not long after that did she return to tell me that my second choice couldn't actually be made vegan.  I chose something else.

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A few more minutes went by and a female manager came out to tell me that my only option was the pumpkin dish, which was not something I really wanted all along (we had already eaten a ton of pumpkin that week at home, so I was all pumpkin’d out).  I had no choice at this point but to reluctantly order the pumpkin risotto.  Do not get me wrong, it was down-right delicious, but after as far as we had come in the dining process and all the layers of having to end up with something I didn't really want, I just felt a bit let down.

In the end, the manager was able to let us stay for the comedy show, which we greatly appreciated and enjoyed.   Their customer service was spectacular, the comedy show was epic, the in-house vibe was very unique, but, after we left, I couldn't help but reflect on how the down-to-earth-hippie-vibe they are going for totally fell flat in the dining room.  Eating vegan isn’t that far-fetched of a lifestyle for a place that encourages you to connect with the earth, so I was somewhat disappointed.

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“I still think what you are trying to do is great,” I continued in my email, “but please consider that your values align with a lot of people who live plant-based, vegan or vegetarian lives.”  I was not asking them to redo their menu, I was just hoping I could encourage them to be more upfront with customers on relevant options from the get-go instead of leading them to believe there is more than what they really have available OR ensure that they have a minimum of three options that vegans can count on when they dine there. 

Vegans typically don't like feeling like a burden, hassle or high-maintenance, but really just want to have the choices they came for when choosing a place like Sherwood.

Now for their epic comeback…

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I received a prompt and amenable response from the manager.  He seemed to appreciate my candor and understanding with the situation.  So, without hesitation, he invited my boyfriend and I back to Sherwood for a “do over.”  The intention of my email was never to get anything more out of our Sherwood experience; I was simply sharing my perspective on our dining venture there in hopes they could make some adjustments for future vegan visitors.

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When Nick and I revisited Sherwood for take two, I have to say they pulled out ALL the stops for us.  They sat us at the best table in the house and created a spectacular four-course, custom, vegan dining experience.  It was incredible.  Even the wine was vegan!

There were a few quirky coincidences that made the whole night pretty magical.  The first coincidence was that our server happened to be one of my favorite yoga teachers, Lizzie, which made the dinner all the more enjoyable.  She’s such a laugh and took amazing care of us throughout the evening.  The second coincidence was that it turned out to be her birthday the next day just like Nick’s!  Their birthday fell on the night of a blue super moon, so it was a serendipitous birthday sync up!  We laughed at the connections between us and carried on having a great night.

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For the first course, they made a unique dish with dehydrated tomato, eggplant gel, wakame, elephant garlic oil, marjoram, and lemon sorrel.   It was fantastic.

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For the second, they served a delectable corn soup topped with freshly popped popcorn! 

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The third dish was a roasted root salad that contained ingredients grown in Sherwood’s own vegetable garden.

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Last, but not least, they created a raspberry sorbet dish topped with fresh marjoram flowers, cranberries, and carrot shreds.

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The first glass of wine we drank was an orange wine, something I had never had before.  Orange wine is a style of wine that has some contact with the grape skins during fermentations, giving it an amber/orangey color.  It was refreshing, crisp and paired perfectly with our dinner.

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We later bought a bottle of wine from Mt. Edward winery that had come straight from their tap.  Yes, a tap!  Sherwood tries to produce minimal waste by re-filling wine bottles from tapped wine and serving as is to their customers.  It’s a pretty innovative approach and something I really appreciated.

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The whole evening was such a treat and despite the kitchen mishap during our first dining experience, I would highly recommend Sherwood to anyone, vegan or not.  They really cared about our visit and it was obvious that they put a tremendous amount of attention into each dish when we returned. 

I’m a nobody who’s only been vegan for a short time, so they really didn’t need to do all they did, however they went the extra mile to ensure we knew they cared about our customer experience.  That makes a place stand out from the rest.

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If you’re visiting Queenstown or live in the area and have never visited Sherwood, do yourself a favor and mosey down to this unique, cozy and rustic spot nestled on a hill overlooking Lake Wakatipu for dinner or even a yoga class.  Aside from a restaurant and hotel, Sherwood often hosts markets, workshops, and classes.  It’s a place with personality and it’s somewhere I’ll be back to again soon.

Thank you to all the staff members at Sherwood who always make our visits there memorable ones.

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Happy Eating!