• Operation Pancake: one year on, will Green Leaves ever learn?

    July 13th, 2010mr meanergreen leaves (NOT VEGAN), LA restaurants

    If you were a quarrygirl.com reader just about a year ago, you’ll probably recall reading Operation Pancake, where we investigated 16 Los Angeles area vegan restaurants, and found that six of them tested positive for certain non-vegan ingredients. In the report (which you really should read if you have not already), we singled out Green Leaves Vegan in Los Feliz as being particularly non-vegan as they were apparently putting real cheese into some of their dishes.

    quesadilla from green leaves

    Soon after our post, things got nasty. We were threatened with legal action by an attorney claiming to act on behalf of Green Leaves Vegan, and yet another lawyer contacted us privately to see if we’d join in a lawsuit AGAINST Green Leaves for “emotional distress”. In fact, it was amazing to see the strength of feeling that patrons of Green Leaves Vegan displayed (check the comments on the post!). Many people had been eating there for years and were shocked to discover that they had apparently been eating non-vegan food.

    So one year on from Operation Pancake we decided to return to Green Leaves Vegan to see how things had improved. Posing as a customer, I asked a very accommodating staff member if the restaurant was entirely vegan. She stated “This is a vegan restaurant, and everything here is vegan.” I asked if she was sure as we’d heard rumors to the contrary, then she said “Look, we’re certified as vegan by the LA County Health Department”, and pointed to a certificate on the wall by the entrance door.

    super authentic-looking "official" certificate by green leaves

    I was beside myself with joy! A “vegan certification” could only be a good thing for the LA vegan community. Well, the problem was that it WASN’T a vegan certification. Far from it. It instead appeared to be a “Truth in Menu” certificate which is used to verify that certain ingredients are what the restaurants claim. They’re used to indicate, for example, that if somebody is selling a “Japanese Kobe Burger” that the meat is, in fact, Japanese beef and not some domestic knock-off. These certifications are also used on occasion to verify that uncooked weight is accurate: An 8oz burger, really is 8oz when it goes on to the grill!

    I was puzzled as to why the City of LA would give such a certification to a vegan restaurant with such a large and broad menu when I noticed some strange things about the document. First, it said “Food Official Inspection” on it: language the government would never use. Second, it was reproduced on plain white stock paper, not official LA County certificate paper (that would have a watermark of City Hall). Also, it was clearly printed on a consumer-grade color inkjet printer (the kind I have at home), there was a grammatical error and the City of LA logo was low resolution and badly cropped. Finally, there was a small yellow sticker on the lower right of the certificate with unintelligible writing on it which appeared strangely suspect.

    Frankly, it appeared to me that somebody had knocked together a fake certificate using the logo from the City of LA website, and hung it on the wall. The more I looked at the “certificate” the more I realized it was completely fake. I was outraged, and decided to leave the restaurant. Before I did, though, I pulled out my ‘phone and snapped a high resolution picture. I was tempted to rush home and knock out a blog post about this, but I know I’m not an expert in local government documentation so I decided to verify the authenticity of the certificate directly with its alleged provider: The City of LA Dept. Of Public Health.

    From my car, I started calling the City of LA (that 311 ‘phone number that Mayor Villaraigosa introduced is a really useful thing!) and was eventually transferred to a Health Inspector at the Environmental Health Dept. I explained to her what I’d seen and she said that she’d contact the local field office and make a request for somebody to visit. Frankly, I didn’t think that anything would happen – these people must be so busy that spending time to investigate some paranoid vegan crackpot’s suspicions would hardly be high on their list of priorities!

    Before I hung up with the lady I got her email address (NO, NOT FOR THAT. Get your mind out of the gutter.) so that I could email through the photo I’d just taken. Within seconds of sending it, I received a nice reply:

    click to enlarge

    Well, as I expected, July 8th came and went without hearing anything from the Health Inspector. BUT, yesterday afternoon (Monday July 12th) the following message popped into my Inbox:

    click to enlarge

    As soon as I read it I called a vegan friend who works in Los Feliz and asked him to pop down to Green Leaves and see if the “certificate” was still there. An hour or so later, he called me to confirm that there was an empty space where I’d seen the document just a few days ago. Again, I was intrigued to know what was going on, so I called up Green Leaves and asked to speak to the manager. The call went like this:

    QG: Hi there, is your restaurant completely vegan?
    GLV: Yes, 100% everything is vegan.
    QG: Oh, that’s great. A friend of mine said you had a certificate that your menu is vegan. Can I see that when I come in?
    GLV: (long pause) er, we have no certificate but we are 100% vegan.
    QG: Oh, my friend saw the certificate only last week. Did you take it down?
    GLV: I don’t really know about a certificate, sorry, but we are a vegan restaurant and the food is good!
    QG: OK, thanks very much.
    GLV: Welcome

    I think that any intelligent person would have a pretty good idea about what the bottom line is here. I reached out to a few vegan friends, one of which told me that he’d been shown the certificate as a reassurance of Green Leaves Vegan’s honest menu some weeks before, and never thought to question it. I wonder how many other people were sucked in by this fake certificate and who continued to trust Green Leaves Vegan, a restaurant which never, ever seems to learn a lesson.

    I’m going to research the hearing date for the Public Health Dept. and I may go along if it’s a public hearing – I really have to be a fly on the wall when the owners explain an alleged forgery of a government certification.

    Tags: ,

65 responses to “Operation Pancake: one year on, will Green Leaves ever learn?” RSS icon

  • Fucking gross. I have not been there since the original report a year ago, but I know that many vegans eat there and I’ve heard about that certificate in the past. I hope this is a criminal matter and the owners are forced to close, go to jail or both.

  • They showed me that certificate last week when I got a carry-out order. Never thought to suspect it. Ihate that place.

  • I’m still pretty new at going to vegan places in LA, I’m about five months into learning about where to go for vegan cuisine around town.
    I’ve never been to this particular place, so I’m thinking I should maybe avoid it for now. Thanks for taking all the trouble to research and post this QG. I really appreciate it.

  • Kudos to you for taking time to investigate and follow up with stuff like this. It is greatly appreciated and I am so thankful to have a fellow LA vegan that helps us all stay true to the cause!

  • Their lack of respect for veganism is appalling and your perserverance is to be applauded.

  • Wow, great post. I think its really important to keep places like this in check.

  • Sick buuuurn.

    But seriously they are dirty fucking liars.

  • Many thanks, QG.

  • I thought the original piece was just awesome ‘citizen journalism’. Thanks for the follow-up. I’ve never eaten there, and certainly have no plans to now.

  • Yup, the owner of this restaurant is a total scumbag. He’s not vegan and is very abusive to his staff and customers. I really think we should get a demonstration together outside the restaurant… anybody up for one this Saturday?

  • Holy shit! Wow. WOW. I can’t believe they would do that. That’s insane! Haven’t eaten there since OP, and never will again.

  • I’m shocked! I can’t believe they put up a fake certificate. Fingers crossed they get busted somehow at the hearing. I can’t wait to find out what happens.

  • Da Data Monkey


  • When I went in Green Leaves for the first time in well over a year last week by dire circumstance I had a few questions for them to make sure the stuff I ordered would indeed be void of animal products and they showed me the official certificate.

    When I got my food I realized they had changed some of their ingredients from a year previous. So I was mildly excited that Green Leaves might be officially 100 percent vegan now. But what the heck is this certificate? Does it amount to anything or is it B.S.? Well It’s pretty cool when you post this concern on twitter and Quarrygirl investigates the matter further and actually gets official proof the certificate is fake.

    So let’s say most of Green Leaves food is vegan or magically it all is now. Why put up a fake certificate? If you have food that isn’t vegan why not just become a vegetarian restaurant and label vegan items properly? Thank you Quarrygirl for taking this to the next level.

  • “Food Official Inspection” LMAO

  • LOL. That certificate sure is special. They’re a mess. Great post.

  • Wow, forgery of official government documents and seals with the intention to mislead… sounds like they’re gonna be in some hot water. I wonder if they’ll get shut down…

  • I live in NY so I’ve kept up with the whole Operation Pancake saga from a distance, but I really want to commend you on your super sleuthing. I’m sitting here shaking my head, trying to figure out what on earth would be someone’s motivation to fake a certificate and claim to sell vegan food when they don’t. Why not just, I don’t know, actually sell vegan food? WTF is so hard about that?!

  • Why go to SO MUCH TROUBLE to lie? Why not use vegan ingredients and call it a day, like, I don’t know, the 20-plus restaurants in L.A. that ARE actually vegan?

  • Everyone on Yelp still seems to think that this is an authentic vegan restaurant….going out to LA in a couple of months and I’ll skip this place….

  • Leah, that’s because Green Leaves paid to have bad Yelp reviews deleted and good ones moved to the top.

  • The guy doesn’t use vegan ingredients because he is a cheap slimy bastard.

    Quarrygirl…you should submit your original and latest article to LA Weekly. Maybe they will support a really in-depth investigation into these types of restaurants.

    Also, I originally found this site because of OP and stop by here daily because of the reviews. This site is a godsend.

    Thanks for all your hard work!

  • Jeez, wouldn’t it just be easier to actually run a vegan restaurant instead of a fake one?

  • They are LIARS and should never be trusted! Yay QG!

    Green Leaves is exploiting our ethics and values for our money.

    For all you veg*ns who criticized QG’s blogs re GL…. 1. QG is an LA vegan food blogger- this is what she does! And have you ever had a “vegan” restaurant purposefully LIE to you to get you to eat their animal products? I ate there (weekly) for a year before I realized they LIED every time.

    Yay QG! They’re are too many respectful vegan- friendly places in LA/los Feliz… I will never gives those jerks my money!!

    Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can to WAY better in LA and in Los Feliz!! There’s no excuse for animal abuse and there’s no excuse for supporting GL. Give your $$ to people who will be truthful to you!!!

  • Awesome Post!

    listen either be a vegan restaurant, or don’t. this idiot is so stupid, if he just said “this item is vegan, this one is lacto” this problem never would have occurred!

    people who live near this place should stop in any time they walk by and ask them what is vegan, ask to see ingredients lists (CA law says pre-packaged food ingredients list is supposed to be shown to customers on request! did you know that?), people should call them, people should shame them. I’m not talking about harassment, I’m talking about just desserts. And since none of their desserts are likely to be vegan, that would be a good starting point 😉

    QG: pls post date/time/location of public hearing so that likeminded people can network with people who can stop this (i.e. city officials, etc)…

    Here is my tip to people visiting LA, if the restaurant has the word “VEGAN” in the title of the restaurant, BEWARE…. Sad but true – don’t forget this is LA – where fake ass shit prevails. – on the positive side, QG.com has excellent reviews of places you SHOULD go that will blow your undergarments off!

  • Thing that pisses me off is that the place has a great Yelp score….meaning this place is screwing over many many people that think they are getting a 100% vegan meal.

    I hope they get their ass handed to them at hearing.

  • wtf is wrong with these people?! why is this place still in business?

  • I don’t understand why they would go in the way of making a fake certificate instead of just making their food vegan friendly?

  • I’m sorry, but how dumb do you have to be to believe that LA County certifies restaurants as vegan? There’s no reason for them to care about that.

  • This is a great follow up! I’m so captivated by this story – I can’t wait to see what happens after the hearing!! Well done.


  • oh man! i fucking love you guys for posting these updates! the fact that they tried to threaten you with a lawsuit pisses me off anymore.
    and i agree with screwdriver! you all should consider sending your finds to local newspapers or website that might spread this news further!

    so glad i dont eat there anymore. the food was never anything special anway. there are at least a dozen vegan or vegetarian eateries in that area that are far superior to the bullshit that is green leaves!

  • Green Leaves: (323) 664- 2345

    Don’t forget to call them and let them know how you feel! 😉

  • Fine work! I’m surprised you were brave enough to go in again… to eat! (I’ll never go back.)

    It will be interesting to see if the County prosecutes on the forged certificate.

    Finally, if I was the on-site inspector and heard about this I’d also make sure the ongoing “surprise” inspections were frequent and complete from now on.

    Mr. W

  • They need to be shut down and jailed!!! Thank you for this investigation!!!!!!

  • how dumb can they get?!

  • I just don’t get why no one has sued them. If you are hindu and eat there and ingest some bovine parts you loose your ability to get to heaven. Check the McDonald’s class action about 12+ years ago. 2 million$ payout.

  • Boycott those bastards!!

  • You’re amazing. Thanks for all of your hard work.

  • This should absolutely be a criminal offense and I hope they get in a lot of trouble over it.

    What if someone had to be vegan for serious health reasons (if that exists) and ate there? That’s why laws exist regarding to lying about ingredients.

    Falsification of document? Jesus Christ… more time and effort probably went into that (shoddy as it is) than to just call your place a vegetarian restaurant. It’s not like vegans are some gigantic market and the key to a successful business.

  • This is amazing that you have taken the time to do this. It is so wrong to lie about food products. Many ppl are highly allergic to dairy. if they eat these items, they can become very ill. I’m appalled at that “certificate”. I have worked with LA county environmental health and safety, they are really good.
    Good luck on the case. And thanks for your help for all of us vegans 🙂

  • Who do you think is behind all of this? Is there just one owner? Do you think the owner(s) is/are completely guilty or could there be something lost in translation here (since much of the staff seem to be non-native English speakers)? Of course I think it’s absolutely disgraceful to lie to the public – ESPECIALLY about a matter of health, ethics, and the environment. But WHO would lie about such a thing? That’s why I wonder if there may’ve been some misunderstanding somewhere along the way (obviously not about the fake document, but leading up to it). OR perhaps I have too much faith in humanity and these people really are as crooked and effed up as they appear.

  • It figures, the scumbags. I never went back after the first time. It was my favorite restaurant but once they stabbed us in the back, I said scew ’em. Nice work exposing them (again)!

  • Ooops, that was supposed to be SCREW ’em. But as long as I’m here, I hope they go out of business.

  • This is incredible. and Sad. Thank you.

  • Thank you for exposing the truth about this restaurant — twice! Fortunately, I have never been there and I can’t foresee EVER going. People choose to be vegans for particular reasons — diet and/or ethics, and this establishment has proven that it cares about neither. Even if the restaurateurs eventually live up to their advertising as a vegan restaurant, I don’t want to support an owner/owners who, A) don’t REALLY care about the ethics of veganism and the suffering of animals, B) don’t care about the concerns and desires of paying customers, and C) are intrinsically dishonest.

  • Nobody’s mentioned that GLV’s lawyer sent a letter dated Jul 15 ’09 that states, “Green Leaves Vegan is vegan and is verified by the Los Angeles Health Dept. Green Leaves has passed all city inspections regarding it’s vegan menu.” That’s written proof that they’ve been lying about this certification crap for at least a year!

    Can someone please find & post the law that was mentioned above about a customer’s right to see packaged food ingredient labels if used at a restaurant. If it exists people should keep a copy when they go out to eat, so they can inspect with something to show.

  • I also want to thank u…GREAT WORK! Man, what sick jerks…There SHOULD be a crowd in the courtroom, of many of the people they lied to. I expect they’ll get a big fine & I hope they DO get shut down or close due to lack of business. A picket sounds good. And yes, there are people who are EXTREMELY allergic to dairy, and having some could be dangerous.

  • Truly Scrumptious

    As a vegan, and a vegan restaurant owner, I find this sickening. I appreciate you went to such lengths. As someone in the industry (not even in the same state!) that cert screamed “BS!” to me, but if you’re a casual customer it’d be easy to take a glance and assume legit.

    This situation does, however, reinforce the idea that we have to support businesses that are owned by vegans – people who are known in the community and have a goal *beyond* making money.

    :::sigh::: Thanks, QG!

  • I have been to green leaves alot in the past. the best thing about it is the kind staff and that it’s low priced. I think they did stop using cheese with casein. I haven’t been there in awhile because I’m into Flore. They do vegan cusine. Green Leaves menu is meat-centric mearly subbing real meat with soy meat. I think Green Leaves is a good place for a meat eater to go if they want to eat less meat.

  • oh yeah, what about the sign on the front that says “vegetarian (vegan) restaurant”. I always looked at that and wondered what it meant… true vegetarians are vegans? or are they trying to cover their asses by posting a word that includes ovo-lactos?

  • A staff that lies to you with a smile is not kind. It’s not low priced, but comparable to all the other Thai based “vegan” restaurants, go to Oh Happy Day Cafe for a real deal. When a restaurant lies a.k.a. commits fraud it’s a good place for no one, meat-eater or not! They post “vegetarian (vegan) restaurant” for people who don’t know what vegan means, but it still lets the vegans know that they’re vegan, but all that is irrelevant since they’re not. They could say “level 5” and I still wouldn’t go there.


  • It says right on their menu that some items aren’t vegan even though their sign does say vegan.

    GLV is my favorite restaurant by such a landslide that I will be going back (they have the most gluten free options of any SoCal restaurant I’ve been too). Hopefully they’ll get their act together and make all their food properly labeled. I can tell the stuff I get is totally vegan and gluten free because I have a really sensitive stomach.

    Hopefully they will clean up their act for real instead of making fake certificates.

  • I used to eat here once a week or so. I am appalled, and will never eat here again.
    I am considering calling them and harassing them now.
    You should too!

  • What an amazing job you did investigating the restaurants and following up on all of the facts. I was clapping for you the whole way. People do have severe dairy and egg allergies. Because allergies can be life-threatening, this is an enormous issue for any public establishment that serves or sells food. I’m not surprised about products from Asia countries being mislabeled as it seems there have been many exposes done recently on foods originating from this area, especially China.

    The irony is that some vegan restaurants could possibly attract more customers with a vegetarian sign than with a vegan sign, and menus could be specified as vegan, ovo, lacto, etc. so that people could clearly see their choices and select according to their preferences/needs. (although they might lose some stricter type vegans who prefer not to visit an establishment that serves any type of animal product whatsoever due to concerns over contamination issues on site.

    And then I know someone who is so severely allergic to peanuts she cannot fly on airplanes because she has a severe allergic reaction just to the “odor” of peanuts when the bags are opened.

    I’m wondering if you have considered doing a retest for these restaurants to see if their foods have changed as a result of your expose. It might reassure people who’ve been scared away from well-meaning restaurants who were the victim of mislabeling and who’ve since made changes.

    P.S. By the way, I’ve worked with many people with food allergies, and they are often helped by an herbal liver cleansing program.

  • It really would be nice to see more of the types of menus that Cynthia Foster, MD writes about above; great idea! Nonetheless, my partner and I love Green Leaves (the one in West Hollywood, which we frequently call for delivery)! The food is delicious, the staff is polite, and the delivery is quick.

    As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, my partner is not bothered by the possibility that some mock meats might contain dairy products or eggs. As for me, since I have a gluten sensitivity, I avoid eating mock meats anyway. Green Leaves has plenty of excellent veggies & tofu dishes for me to choose from!

    I am so glad that Green Leaves is close by and that they seem pleased to have us as customers! Great restaurant!

  • This reminds me of the time I bought a popular brand of vegan turkey and vegan gravy one year for Thanksgiving. After my friend and I finished the meal, we both proceeded to have a funny “turkey” smell in each of our urine. (Rest of the meal was vegan and made from all fresh ingredients at home), I suspected some type of chemical flavoring, as I know with real turkey, it doesn’t end up “flavoring” the urine. At that point, I decided not to buy any more “flavored” tofu aka “mock meats” in the form that meat eaters love to consume when becoming vegetarian for the first time. I think these products are nice perhaps for special occasions and for making the transition to vegetarianism, but otherwise, maybe not so wonderful for daily consumption.

    Oh yes, gluten-free options would be nice to see on menus as well. Good idea, Fritz

  • Kudos to LA’s 311 and Health Dept! It’s encouraging to know that they would take this seriously and look into it in as quickly as the did. I’m impressed!

  • Wonder what, if anything, happened as a result of that.

  • I’ve been a very serious vegan for 36 years for moral reasons and I’m pissed at Green Leaves for the many times they’ve apparently lied to me, thanks to Quarry Girl she’s protecting us all! I’m studying for the bar exam right now, will probably take a year or two, and if I pass, you’re going to have one pissed off vegan attorney at your service ready to start a bunch of class actions against these proliferating thai “Vegan” restaurants that are starting to infest socal with the same lies and deceptions! And while I’m ranting, here’s a message to Monsanto: here I come to give FREE legal aid to small Midwest farmers whose backs you’re trying to break to get your GMO foods shoved down all of our throats…any legal fees that I receive from you after I demolish you in court are going to get donated to some organic foods coop or whatever, just to further rub your faces in your nonsense!

  • Hi. I have a severe allergy to dairy. When I ordered I told the person on the phone I was allergic to dairy and was assured that it was in fact vegan cheese being used. After eating the “vegan” chicken quesadilla from there I projectile vomited for 2 days. Now I know why. Thanks you for bringing this to light. I will never order from them again.

  • Thank you QG!!! What’s the latest news with this effing POS restaurant? I hope they get shut down!

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