Accused in $2M Theft, NYC's 'Hottest Vegan' Felled by Pizza

She's now in Riker's, accused of stealing millions from her own restaurant
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2016 3:03 PM CDT
Updated May 25, 2016 1:03 AM CDT
Accused in $2M Theft, NYC's 'Hottest Vegan' Felled by Pizza
In this 2011 photo, Sarma Melngailis, who owns the One Lucky Duck store and online business, specializing in vegan snacks.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It's a dizzying downfall: Sarma Melngailis went from the Ivy League and French Culinary Institute to near-instant fame and success in the Big Apple when she opened the vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine, frequented by the likes of Alec Baldwin. Hailed as the city's "hottest vegan" by the New York Post, Melngailis seemed to have it all—until a man by the name of Anthony Strangis entered the picture, sometime around 2013. Though there were early inklings that all was not merry in Melngailis land (her former boyfriend accused her of having thrown stools and grapefruits at him back in 2005, and she admits to battling bulimia since opening her restaurant), Melngailis' world began to deteriorate rapidly with Strangis by her side. (The Knoxville News Sentinel calls him "a 275-pound alleged gambling addict with a criminal record.)

By 2014, Melngailis had failed to make payroll multiple times while spending tens of thousands on casino trips, European vacations, and Rolexes. The two were on the lam for nearly a year, but were busted last week in a hotel in Sevierville, Tenn., in a most ironic way: One of them ordered Domino's pizza. They are now sitting in Rikers, accused of stealing as much as $2 million from Pure. A whopping 24 charges include grand larceny, tax fraud, and scheming to defraud. "She must be miserable and fighting like mad to do whatever she has to," her father tells the Gothamist, which describes the couple as "two people with astonishing penchants for self-sabotage." Facing up to 15 years in prison, Melngailis tells the Post she'll figure out a way to get her employees back: "I cry every day." (Another grand larceny case shocked New York in 2014.)

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