Raised in a kosher household, vegan Sunny Anne Holliday enjoys all of the dishes served in her restaurant, Lovin’ Spoonfuls — including country fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs and cheeseburgers.
Everything on the menu is meat- and dairy-free, says Holliday, but her savory dishes and decadent bakery items, made with tasty substitute ingredients, attract countless regular customers, including Jews, Buddhists and others with dietary restrictions. Mostly, though, diners are people who simply like the food and want to eat healthier.
“At least half are not vegetarians,” she says. “And Jewish customers know it’s a safe place to eat because they don’t have to worry about mixing meat and dairy.”
Holliday identifies as a Reform Jew. Her mother was Orthodox, and her father, a Polish Holocaust survivor who escaped the Warsaw ghetto, while not religiously observant, was “very committed to Jewish causes and supporting Israel,” she says.
Her husband, Arnold Raitsimring, originally from Siberia, Russia, also had family members who evaded the Nazis, she says. “They retreated deeper into Russia as German troops advanced.”
Born in Norfolk, Va., Holliday and her older brother grew up in Flushing, N.Y. “My brother had a bar mitzvah, but I didn’t have a bat mitzvah,” she says. “It was more about boys back then.” Undeterred by gender stereotypes, she enjoyed science in high school, and majored in chemistry at Buffalo State University. After working for Mobil Oil Corporation for 13 years, she moved to Tucson in 1991, where she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Arizona and worked in the fields of science and technology.
Alongside her affinity for science, Holliday nurtured a lifelong love of cooking, and dreamed of opening her own restaurant. Friends who sampled her culinary creations urged her to take up cooking full-time. She took the big step a year before the economic recession began. Despite the timing, and the fact that around 60 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year, the business thrived, earning countless awards over the past 11 years.
Additionally, a Lovin’ Spoonfuls mobile hot dog stand takes vegan fare to various venues around Tucson. “This year, we’ll have a presence at the Tucson Festival of Books for the first time, selling Wildcat dogs with vegan blue cheese and Sriracha sauce,” says Holliday. “They’re really popular.”
As a go-to person for questions about veggie food, Holliday is often asked if vegetarians have trouble getting enough protein.
“That’s absolutely a myth,” she says. “Protein deficiency is not a problem in this country. Most people get way too much.” Average human protein requirements are 10 percent of total calories consumed. “There’s so much protein in all food, even if you only eat veggies, you get twice as much as you need,” says Holliday. A high-protein diet increases health risks, including kidney disease and osteoporosis, she adds.
Holliday is a vegan for ethical reasons, and supports various animal rescue groups through her business. Proceeds from handmade jewelry on her front counter are also donated to animal causes. “I do the beading, and they do the needing,” she quips.
Though she and her husband are owned by five cats, she doesn’t consider herself an animal lover. “There are a lot of animals I don’t like, but I don’t think you have to be an animal lover to recognize cruelty and not want to support it,” says Holliday. “It’s like human rights — it’s about justice, cruelty and what’s inappropriate.”
Kaye Patchett is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.