Pure Food and Wine’s Owner Has Been Arrested

Photo: Mark Cuddihee
When chef-owner Sarma Melngailis opened up to Well+Good last year about her personal and professional problems that led to being unable to pay workers at her two raw food restaurants, Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck, she admitted things were bad. But things just got worse. Way worse.

Eater New York reports that Melngailis and her husband Anthony Strangis were arrested on charges of scheming to defraud, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and labor law violation. Together, they allegedly stole almost $800,000 from investors. And those employees who protested outside her restaurants last year, which alerted us all the issues? Melngailis was accused of failing to pay them more than $40,000.

Photo: Instagram/ @purefoodandwine

Even though her workers haven’t been paid, Eater reports she allegedly transferred more than $1.6 million from the restaurant to her personal account, which police say she spent on luxury items, European vacations, Uber rides (to the tune of $10,000), and casinos ($1 million).

"It's the worst nightmare you can think of," Melngailis told the New York Post. “If I had terminal cancer, it would be better than this, because at least [then] I did not cause it.” She told the Post she was not in control of her actions and blames her husband. “I worked hard, this was my passion," she said. "This was all I ever wanted. Why would I throw it up in flames? I have nothing now. I have no apartment. I have no money. Why would I torture myself like that? Talk to my friends. They will tell you this is not me.”

Before the dramatic end of Pure Food and Wine, it was the city's only fine dining raw food restaurant in New York City and the go-to spot for celebrities, superstar yogis, and other members of the wellness cognoscenti for more than a decade.

But police say they successfully tracked down Melngailis and her husband after they ordered from a much more modest eatery: Domino's Pizza. According to the New York Post, the duo called for a cheese pizza delivery to a hotel in Sevierville, TN. (The ironies.) But Melngailis denies that she ate the pizza, saying she is still a devout vegan.

Melngailis told us last year that she deals with problems by "hiding out while she tries to figure out a solution." Now that her confounding financial issues have finally come to a head, the hiding is over.

Originally posted May 13, 2016, updated May 23, 2016.

Since Pure Food and Wine appears to be gone for good, get ideas for how to prep raw food at home from Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen's personal chef. Then, find out why the biggest names in raw food are turning up the heat and offering cooked food.

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