Even more strings of magical lights have moved into Fort Collins’ downtown area. It feels magical to walk under their warmth as the small restaurant calls for diners to rejoice in a homegrown meal. The art on the walls excites the soul and invigorates the eyes. Founder of the hideaway, Taylor Smith, describes it as what it looks like in his head after spending four months building his dream restaurant.

The Gold Leaf opened on Laurel Street, near the College Avenue intersection in April of 2017. Known as the first 100 percent vegan restaurant in Fort Collins, the Gold Leaf is much more than just the ingredients they use. Smith said his inspiration for the menu was simple: “Honestly, it’s hard to be vegan and I just wanted to eat the things that I was used to eating. And I wanted to find a way to make those possible without mock meats.”

Chow down on dessert at the Gold Leaf: a sweet potato pie slice with an apple and beet sauce. Photo credit: Benjamin Chang

Many totally vegan and vegetarian restaurants work very hard to be an experience, something you will never forget. Their dishes are served on beautiful platters and there are many courses before the food coma is allowed to set in. However, there has been a big push in the past few years to make vegan and vegetarian food just as accessible and affordable as non-vegan food. While there are still less of these eating spots than those which cater to the meat lover, there is still a large demand for cuisines of all flavors to be accessible without the meat. The Gold Leaf Collective is one of these places.

As far as the creation of the collective’s dishes goes, it really is not about meat substitutes and trying to just pass as non-vegan food. The dishes bring together fruits and vegetables from all different regions to create flavors which are comfortable and new to the tastebuds at the same time.

Smith refused credit for the menu, “I am not the head chef by any means because everyone’s ideas are heard… The Gold Leaf is making itself, we just work here.”

Most of the dishes revolve around having fun with sandwiches. They serve seitan bacon, banana, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (Elvis’ Savior) as well as sandwiches with fried lion’s mane and pickles (The Prestige); their flavors are across the board. They are also very well known for their “Mac n Shew,” a mac n cheese dish made with cashew cheese.

The collective began with their food truck in 2014, The Silver Seed. Boasting a menu of sandwiches and perfect summer drinks, the food truck became a hit in the Northern Colorado area. The 65-year-old teardrop trailer is pulled around with determination to bring vegan food to the people of Colorado, no matter the occasion. They have made appearances at music festivals in Northern Colorado, weddings galore, food truck rallies, pretty much anywhere food trucks are welcomed.

The S.P.G.T.P. sandwich at the Gold Leaf. Comprised of creamy aioli sauce with seitan and vegetables. Photo credit: Benjamin Chang

After the truck gained popularity, the collective began catering weddings and events around the state as well. And finally, three years after the food truck was born, the Gold Leaf came into the picture. Their grand opening was on Earth Day, April 21, 2017, and Smith made his message clear: “The planet and animals, that’s all I care about…I’m an animal activist in a restaurant owner’s body.”

While veganism is important to the collective, utilizing local farms and businesses is also a top priority. This is obvious by how friendly Smith is, he is in the hub of the action, meeting new people with genuine excitement. The Gold Leaf is a creation born out of a pure desire for collaboration with people who want to change the world. The collective currently works with Wild and Free Fermented Tea, Harbinger Coffee, Mama’s Tofu and features art from creators at the Downtown Artery, just to name a few. On top of these local joints, they also work with Hazel Dell Mushrooms Farm in Loveland.

The Gold Leaf Collective storefront in downtown Fort Collins, CO. Photo credit: Benjamin Chang

Smith boasts of completely relying on word of mouth to advertise for the restaurant, he has not spent a dollar on advertising in four years. The thought process? He has the two food trucks, his “mobile billboards,” and loyal customers who love to share. From these promoters, he knows his patrons will be people who share his vision. This is also why he does not want to expand nationwide; the people make the restaurant special, each touch is personal. “I don’t want to be a McDonalds, I want to be homegrown.”

The Silver Seed and the Gold Leaf are an aesthetically pleasing, taste bud tickling combo which are taking over the hearts of the people in Fort Collins. Oozing with personal touches and thoughtful menu choices, it is a must try for vegans and non-vegans alike.