How exactly did Sarma Melngailis go from vegan superstar to fugitive?

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Photo: Mark Cuddihee

Remember when Pure Food and Wine owner Sarma Melngailis was the toast of the plant-based crowd? With two successful raw food restaurants (the other being Lucky Duck), the cookbook Living Raw Food, and regulars like Tom Brady, Anne Hathaway, and Mara Rooney, she served as aspiration to many in the wellness world—and beyond.

Fast forward to May of this year when Melngailis was holed up in a cheap motel with her husband Anthony Strangis and then arrested. Melngailis and Strangis were charged with scheming to defraud, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and labor law violation. Together, they allegedly stole almost $800,000 from investors.

What exactly happened to the former wellness superstar? Vanity Fair published an investigative article and through deep research and multiple interviews, found some answers.

Here are three life-turning points for the former wellness star and raw food phenom.

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1. She got mixed up with the wrong guy

Almost everyone has that one friend who totally changed after meeting someone who swept her off her feet. Apparently, that happened to Melngailis. Vanity Fair reports that she met Strangis, a compulsive gambler, through Twitter. When Melngailis and Strangis first met, Strangis’ mom told the magazine he was living in his van, traveling from casino to casino. This didn’t stop the two from starting a relationship together, after meeting in person in New York. When they got married, the magazine says Melngailis didn’t tell many people about it, and hints that she was lured in by Strangis’s promises to help her pay off her debts, which were piling up.


2. She was overworked

Sure, it may have looked like Melngailis was living the dream life, but a blog post from 2007 revealed a hidden darkness. According to Vanity Fair, it read: “These people would all probably choke on their flaxcrackers if they knew that not only am I walking around often feeling entirely spent, weary, and even on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but that I’m also carrying a few hundred thousand dollars of personal debt.”


3. She reached a point of desperation

Melngailis’ money woes were so bad, she was desperately searching for a solution—and Strangis promised to be her savior. “He convinced me I’d be empowered in ways I couldn’t imagine,” Melngailis told a source the magazine talked to. Strangis allegedly talked her into breaking all sorts of laws, and reportedly transferring over $1 million from her corporate account to her personal one. And, as you can guess, it spiraled from there. It’s a sad story, which ends with Strangis locked up in Rikers Island as both await trial (Melngailis is out on bail, living in Manhattan.) Their trials are expected to begin in early 2017. If convicted, they could both face up to 15 years in prison.

Haven’t yet found a restaurant to replace your love for Pure Food and Wine? Try one of these buzzy, health-minded hot spots. Or, whip up your own vegan fare at home

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