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Eliza & Sarah Schneider: Vegetarian Restauranteurs

Get to know a Buffalonian...

A vegetarian/vegan restaurant might seem like an alien concept to many Western New Yorkers. But for all the skeptics, the Schneider sisters—owners of Merge ( — want you to know about the benefits - from going green to eating local.

How did the two of you get into the restaurant business and what is it like to run a restaurant with your sister?

Eliza: I wanted to open an art gallery and Sarah wanted to offer a vegetarian cafe to the Buffalo scene. With community input, we quickly evolved into a full scale restaurant and music venue. Sarah and I are learning so much about each other through this process. It has been a challenge and a growing experience for us both, but with the laid back family atmosphere we all have a lot of fun.

Sarah: We wanted to introduce more people to healthier food options and have fun while doing it. Everyone laughs at us when we disagree and bicker—which happens a lot—but I wouldn’t want a different partner. She’s constantly testing and pushing my ideas, which, in the end, makes them better. Our entire family works in the same building, and that’s pretty special.

Were you worried about how a restaurant with a strong vegetarian/vegan emphasis would go over in a chicken wing town like Buffalo? Do you feel like Buffalo is more cosmopolitan than it is given credit?

We wanted to offer an alternative for those interested in exploring a healthy and balanced diet. All over the country there is a food revolution going on. People are starting to be more conscious about about what they put into their bodies, where their food comes from, and how it makes them feel. We have been lucky to met so many Buffalonians who lead a healthy lifestyle and who have been eating locally, vegan, or even raw for years.

What are the benefits to eating local? How do you try to balance your menu with seasonally available foods?

Eating local food helps our farmers maintain jobs and care for our land. It strengthens the local economy, cuts down on our carbon footprint, and—best of all—if you are eating local organic produce, you are eating in harmony with the land and environment we are a part of, and that feels tremendous. We create specials using available local food through CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and farmer’s markets.

What are some of the challenges of running a kitchen that caters to so many dietary styles/restrictions?

Communication and attention to detail. The cooks are extremely flexible and willing to make substitutions for our guests, but getting those substitutions and details correct in the kitchen starts at the table. It’s about education and communication all the way down the line.

How important was it to you that Merge help to promote the arts scene in Buffalo?

Art has been a family passion for many generations, so it seemed compulsory that we involve people in the arts at the restaurant. It is so much fun for us to meet creative people and be a venue for the talented music and art scene in Buffalo.

Are both of you vegetarians/vegans/etc.? What does it mean to you, personally, to adapt this style of diet?

Sarah: I have been vegetarian for over ten years for political and health reasons. I don’t think very many people realize the environmental impact the meat industry has on our planet. The beef industry produces more greenhouse gases than cars, SUVs, planes, trains, and ships combined! Cow farts (methane) are literally causing global warming.

Eliza: I became vegan last March and lost about 15 pounds, felt a huge energy boost and it changed the way I feel about food. I am studying nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City and training to help others achieve their optimum health by coaching and challenging them to try new foods and listen to how their bodies respond.

What are some good food suggestions for the curious or starter-vegetarian?

We offer seitan “wings” as a chicken wing alternative, which are delicious BBQ or hot. We also have a “build your own pizza” on which you can add our soy or nut “cheeses” as an awesome vegan alternative.

How has your staff responded to the tragic shooting in January?

Everyone is dealing with the tragedy in his or her own way, but on the whole we’ve all become more sensitive and aware of just how fragile life can be. I think we all struggle to find meaning or a reason behind what happened, but in one way or another, we’ve all chosen to honor Ricky’s memory by spreading the love he and his family have shown us.

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