What happened to Sarma Melngailis from 'Bad Vegan'?

No need to ask, 'What happened to Sarma Melngailis?' We'll give you the scoop on the infamous restauranteur

Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. Sarma Melngailis in Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. What happened to Sarma Melngailis? Cr. Netflix © 2022
(Image credit: Netflix)

What happened to Sarma Melngailis? By now you've marathoned Bad Vegan, Netflix's gripping new docuseries, and you're searching for answers.

Like The Tinder Swindler and Worst Roommate Ever, this 2022 release joins the ranks of the best true crime on Netflix and keeps TV's obsession with scandal alive and well. But the tale didn't just unfold in the name of entertainment, so let's get up to speed on the real-life events. 

Melngailis, a New York City restauranteur, seemingly had it all—until she let a blossoming romance from Twitter turn her entire world upside down. Here's what happened to Sarma Melngailis in the wake of her tumultuous love story with Shane Fox (né Anthony Strangis).

What happened to Sarma Melngailis?

Melngailis, a pioneer of vegan diets, opened Pure Food & Wine in New York City in 2004. It became a trendy restaurant with an even trendier clientele, including Anne Hathaway, Alec Baldwin and Rooney Mara. (Side note: our guide to vegan for beginners will familiarize you with all-things green, if you're curious.) 

This caught the eye of Shane Fox (Strangis) who perused the restaurant owner via Twitter. They began a courtship in 2011, and this mystery-man with a criminal record made bizarre promises to the author and chef, including keeping Melngailis' dog alive for all eternity and ridding her of money problems. 

But Strangis is the one who truly had the money problems and used Melngailis to fuel his gambling addiction. After the two wed, they went off the radar after stealing nearly $2 million from the restaurant and its employees. Ultimately Strangis' Domino's Pizza order in 2016 led authorities straight to the couple, who were in Tennessee at the time. 

The couple was charged with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal tax fraud, first-degree scheme to defraud and violation of labor, among other offenses, and ultimately, both took plea deals. 

According to Esquire, Melngailis received five years probation and four months in jail, which all began in the summer of 2017. She relocated back to New York in 2019, after her 2018 divorce, and wished she could do the restaurant experience all over again—without Strangis. (She even revealed to The New York Post in 2019 that she thinks the NYC dining scene would be forgiving and welcome her back.) 

After this whirlwind, Melngailis faced about $6 million dollars of collateral damage and debt.

Where is Sarma Melngailis today?

Though she agreed to participate in the Netflix project, Melngailis feels that her story was not accurately portrayed and insists she did not profit from the four-part docuseries. She's attempted to make it clear that she intends to do right by her staff. 

"The good people who’d worked at the business back then were right to be devastated and angry. It was as if I’d abandoned them, which in effect I did," Melngailis wrote on her website.

She continued: "There’s a lot Bad Vegan gets right, but it’s hard not to get stuck on the things that aren’t right or leave an inaccurate impression. Later, I’d like to clear up more," she continued. 

In the post, Melngailis was also adamant about the fact that she and her ex are no longer in touch.

When word got out that the restauranteur had a problem with the documentary—particularly the phone call insinuating she and Strangis are still in communication with one another—Netflix heavyweights told their side of the story to Newsweek. Series director Chris Smith and executive producer Ryann Frase opened up about the inclusion of the conversation.

"In this call, we found Sarma to be confident and strong—making fun of the tales Anthony had spun, telling him that he had to show up on a unicorn for there to be any reconciliation (meaning there is no reconciliation)…"

The audio interview continues: "This call was one of the few pieces of audio we found of them communicating in a way that helped us understand their relationship in the first place.”

Who would've guessed that all of this drama started with a vegan restaurant?!

Danielle Valente
Digital News Writer

Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few. 

When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.