The downfall of vegan chef Sarma Melngailis and her once-successful restaurants are documented in Netflix docuseries Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. She did get paid for her involvement in the docuseries, but where did the money go?
Sarma Melngailis stole nearly $2 million from investors and employees
After opening successful fine-dining raw restaurant Pure Food and Wine and subsidiary One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway, chef Sarma Melngailis met Anthony Strangis, who identified as Shane Fox at the time.
According to her account documented in Netflix’s Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives, she noticed him through his Twitter communications with actor and frequent customer Alec Baldwin.
However, he began asking her to wire him money under the guise of an undercover agent and someone who could make her dog immortal. Also believing he could get her into a society that would bring her wealth and happiness, the chef began stealing money from her business accounts to send it to him, adding up to $2 million throughout a couple of years.
As a result, she couldn’t make payroll, and her employees staged a public walkout. After raising funds to re-open, the staff walked out again after she failed to pay them, and her businesses closed in 2015. Melngailis has since served four months in jail for scheming to defraud and criminal tax charges.
Did Netflix pay Sarma Melngailis?
Before facing charges, Melngailis and Strangis fled town, ultimately getting caught in Tennessee.
By the time they were arrested, the then-married couple had appropriated a total of around $6 million from her once successful restaurants.
She claimed that while subjects typically aren’t compensated, the producers “made an exception” for her situation. Otherwise, Melngailis claimed she didn’t “profit” from the documentary and insists producers can corroborate this account.
Did Sarma pay her employees?
Instead, the restaurateur explained she used the money to reimburse her staff the total amount my former employees were owed—amounts that accrued after my disappearance in 2015.”
The restaurateur clarified further, explaining she turned over material for the docuseries in exchange for the producers to pay an attorney “who then, on the same day, wired full payment directly to the attorney representing the employees.” After the former staff reportedly received their owed wages, Melgnailis wrote she felt “relieved.”
However, the once-celebrated chef, whom her employees affectionately called Sarmama, also noted, “that was just a small part of what remains outstanding. I want to be clear that I’ll keep working toward addressing it all—one way or another—eventually.”
While the chef thinks the docuseries didn’t get everything right, she does believe it correctly showed how much she cared for her staff, adding, “intentionally harming them is just about the last thing I’d have done.” Melngailis also validated their anger with her and reiterated the bizarre situation she found herself in with Strangis at the time. Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives is streaming on Netflix.