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Earlier this year, Rebecca Stillman and Alisa Bartkoski, both from Glastonbury, were a bit stressed out from preparing for their upcoming wedding. So about a week before they were due to tie the knot, they headed for the shoreline, went for a long run at Hammonasset, and then headed to Guilford to get something to eat.
They picked up a Buffalo chicken sandwich with buttermilk ranch dressing, bacon, and crushed chips on a pretzel bun for Stillman and a clam strip roll with chipotle tartar and cocktail sauce for Bartkoski. They parked themselves in the sun on a bench outside, kicked off their running shoes, and dug in. The food from Three Girls Vegan Creamery tasted as good as, or better than, the food they remembered from about three years earlier, from before they started to eat vegan.
"Oh my god, you don't even realize you're eating vegan," said Stillman.
"That's the trick," said Barkowski.
"The thing I missed most is Buffalo chicken. And clam strips. And meatball subs. They're hard to come by," said Stillman. "This is like a private mini-bachelorette party. For a few hours, we can come here and we are just not stressed."
The small storefront, which opened in Guilford in March of this year, offers a wildly wide array of great eats with a heavy emphasis on Italian food. And yes, while it's all vegan, Three Girls quickly has become a friendly oasis for vegans, vegetarians, and vegan-curious omnivores alike.
On this day Tracy Alexander, who runs the company with her two daughters, hence the name Three Girls, is working in the bustling kitchen with one daughter while the other daughter works the register and counter out front. Sitting at a prep table, overseeing a small kitchen crew, monitoring social media on her cell phone, and drinking ice water out of a quart-sized deli container, Alexander looks up and flashes a big smile while explaining a core belief. Everyone is welcome to eat at her table.
"You do you. I'll do me. And we'll all get along," she said cheerfully.
Alexander seems an unlikely candidate to be running a vegan restaurant. Her past life includes running a healthcare technology company and overseeing about 150 employees.
Then, in 2011, Alexander's mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, given 10 months to live. "We did all the research and we just kept coming back to a vegan diet," Alexander said. "But we're an Italian family. No way was she just going to eat carrots."
Alexander hesitates a moment while telling her story to say she's neither giving medical advice nor telling anyone what they should do. She's just telling you what she did.
"I worked for nine months developing the mozzarella. And she ate all the crappy mozz, too. Finally, I came up with one that was great with Caprese. It was melty too. Then she wanted a sausage pizza."
She rolls her eyes. And smiles again.
"But she lived for eight and a half years. That's huge. And it wasn't eight years of sickness, either. It was eight years of birthday parties. And celebrations. And of going to the casino. And having fun. And she was so pissed she had to die."
The expression on her face changes. It's a look familiar to anyone who's lost a parent.
"But we did a lot of fun things."
You can tell a 3GV first-timer. They sit, crack open the clamshell package, and lean in. They take a bite, their eyes pop open a bit wider, and then, their mouth stuffed with food, they nod enthusiastically to the person sitting across from them.
Jim and Sherry Griffin, and their kids, Alisha and Joshua, are from Manchester, via Hammonasset, where they've been camping. Jim and Sherry are omnivores, but their son Joshua recently started to eat vegan. Sherry's eating the fried chicken dinner with the biscuit and vegan honey.
"This is not what I expected for sure. It just tastes so good. I'm not sure what it's made of and I really don't care. I don't know, I might want to go on a healthier diet." She says her son used to have stomach problems, and had to carry Tums all the time, but since switching up his diet is feeling better.
Just up the sidewalk, Emily Ifrach of Hamden is sitting in the sun, and waiting for her order. A vegetarian for both health and humanitarian reasons, she says "here I can eat the foods I like in a way that is comfortable with my beliefs."
Rose Czekala, from West Haven, visiting Three Girls about a week later, is sitting with a group of about a dozen vegans, having an impromptu picnic in a grassy spot under some trees across the parking lot. They care about healing the planet, healing people, protecting animals.
"This is a great opportunity for non-vegans to eat great vegan food," she says. "You can eat guilt-free and not have death on your plate."
Back in the prep kitchen, Taylor Costin, Alexander's daughter and one of the Three Girls, is helping her mom, having come up from where she is currently living in Nashville.
"She comes here for the food, I swear," says her mom.
"There is nothing like this in Nashville," Costin says. "I think everyone would eat vegan if they could. The problem is access. People just want good food."
Her mom is trying to put a plastic top on a takeout container. It keeps popping off. "I'm going to kill this thing," Alexander says, then looking up and adding, "About eighty percent of our customers are not vegan. People just want good food."
The three girls are contemplating a New York City Three Girls pop-up.
"I think it's going to be good," says mom about the pop-up, looking at her daughter.
"It's going to be good," says Costin.
They're also discussing the possibility of franchising. They have big plans and want to proceed at a sensible pace.
Alexander seems a bit annoyed about the need to make money. She gets it. She's a businesswoman. And making this food was about trying to save her mom's life, first, and then, also indulging in her love of cooking, and her love of having fun and laughing every day. She loves her daughters, her customers, her food. "I eat here and I feel like I'm robbing the place. It's so hard to believe it's ours."
On this day, Brittany Guerra, the daughter working the front of house, runs back to the kitchen every now and again to let everyone know about the length of the line. Right now, the set of her jaw and the look in her eyes say it's time to stop chatting. "The line is getting long," she says quietly, and she dashes back out front.
Her mom returns to her tasks and has one more thing to say.
"My favorite thing is making new stuff. I'm like a child. I can't stand the same old, same old," she says. She has veganized 800 recipes, she says, and has rolled out only about 20 to 30. "There's nothing I can't veganize."
"She's not kidding," says Costin.
"I'm not kidding," says Alexander.
Three Girls Vegan Creamery is located at 645 Boston Post Road, Guilford. For more information, call 203-896-0411 visit www.threegirlsvegan.com
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