On the Lowdown: Find Late-Night Vegan Eats at This Coffee Shop Drive-Thru

(Left to right) Lowdown Vegan manager Frankie O’Neill and owners Theron Evans and Jai Jones pose in the window of Arizona's first vegan fast food drive-thru.
(Left to right) Lowdown Vegan manager Frankie O’Neill and owners Theron Evans and Jai Jones pose in the window of Arizona's first vegan fast food drive-thru. Geri Koeppel
Finding fast, affordable, convenient, and approachable vegan food can be a challenge, particularly for night owls. That’s why Theron Evans and Jai Jones, who are partners in life as well as business, devised the idea for Lowdown Vegan.

“Jai and I both had similar gripes about late-night eating,” Evans says, noting that options are “limited and boring,” like a bean burrito without the cheese. He posed the questions, “Why is vegan food so expensive? Why do we have to wait 30 minutes for our order?”

Jones adds that vegan options at conventional restaurants often miss the mark. “I don’t like French fries or some dumb, silly eggplant or zucchini option," she says. "I’m very much not a fan of a zucchini sandwich or hummus and pita bread.”

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Jai Jones, co-owner of Lowdown Vegan, prepares an order of Mac & Cheeze.
Geri Koeppel
In order to satisfy eaters like themselves and to entice others to try plant-based food, the couple opened Arizona’s first dedicated vegan fast food drive-thru, Lowdown Vegan, in January. It serves a concise menu of plant-based sandwiches, pasta, desserts, and beverages.

The restaurant is “on the lowdown” because it operates out of Froth Coffee Roasters at East McDowell Road and North 15th Street from 7 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday after the daytime business closes.

Most customers order online, pick up at the window, and take their brown paper bags to go, although some eat on-site at outdoor tables as the dining room is closed after Froth shuts down for the day. Lowdown Vegan also takes orders at the window and whips up the meals in a jiffy.

“We want to be known as a place where you can roll up and get vegan food in under five minutes and keep going,” Evans says.

That’s the main reason they’re keeping the menu selections tight—to preserve the speed in the kitchen, which uses just a two-burner hot plate and a tidy mise en place. Nothing is fried, which, they admit, has been a deal-breaker for some customers. And they don’t serve plant-based burgers, because they’re already ubiquitous.

Most of the items at Lowdown Vegan are made with “chick’n” mock meat patties made by TiNDLE. “It tastes very, very much like conventional chicken,” Evans says.

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The Buffalo Chick'n Sandwich at Lowdown Vegan uses housemade sauce.
Lowdown Vegan
Sandwiches ($7.95) include BBQ Chick’n with homemade sauce and caramelized onions; Italian Parmesan with marinara, vegan mozzarella, and fresh basil; and Jamaican Jerk, their best-selling and spiciest sandwich, made with Scotch bonnet vegan mayo.

Customer Lupe Espitia, who posted on TikTok about Lowdown Vegan, told Phoenix New Times, “My favorite is the Buffalo Chick’n. It is so delicious; all the flavors just fuse together wonderfully. They know what they’re doing.”

The Buffalo sauce is made in-house with a vegan butter substitute, and the ranch dressing is a special housemade blend as well. The buns are springy and not at all dry.

Other menu options include a Tunah Pasta Salad ($7.95) and a side of LoVe (an abbreviation of Lowdown Vegan) Mac & Cheeze ($3.95) which features a sauce made primarily from potatoes that's remarkably similar in consistency and taste to melted dairy cheese.

Desserts ($3.95) include a Banana Bread Mini-Loaf, Peanut Butter Bar, and Chocolate Chip Brownie. Drinks include The Mint Mend — a health-focused concoction made with mint chlorophyll, filtered water, and a touch of sweetness ($2.50).

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The LoVe Mac & Cheese at Lowdown Vegan can be topped with chick'n.
Lowdown Vegan
While health is not the main focus in most of their dishes, Evans says, “we are going to be a healthier option than any current fast food because we don’t use animal fats.”

The couple developed the menu together, but Jones mentions, “I was raised on a strict vegan macrobiotic diet. I was raised in the kitchen and I had to make vegan macrobiotic meals. I’ve been cooking since I was young.”

A macrobiotic diet can vary, but the one Jones was raised on included seasonal, local, organic foods, with plenty of whole grains and seaweed, no sugar, and no animal products.

She also worked for a chef in Los Angeles during the raw food fad and at a company that made pre-packaged vegan meals. Evans, meanwhile, had a long career working with Hard Rock Cafe in several cities.

Now striking out on their own, the couple hope to find their own building soon and add locations over time.

“Our business model is designed for duplication [and] expansion,” Evans says. “Everything we designed internally including our footprint is designed for a high, high level of duplication.”

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Lowdown Vegan manager Frankie O'Neill prepares a Buffalo Chick'n Sandwich.
Geri Koeppel
Meanwhile, Lowdown Vegan currently attracts customers in large part because they’ve Googled “vegan food.” They get a good number of people coming from the airport and from nearby hospitals. Also, Evans notes, “We’ve been told we’re getting some buzz in the vegan gatherings that are happening in real life.”

And, in what Evans calls a feather in their cap, Lowdown Vegan provided food to the band Paramore when they played at the Super Bowl LVII Music Fest at Footprint Center in February. The band's singer Hayley Williams is vegan and the tour manager called the restaurant and sent a courier to pick up the order.

But the couple hopes to reach a much wider span of eaters beyond vegans by providing flavors and textures that mimic what omnivores already enjoy. Their customer Espitia, who describes herself as a "pescatarian," says “Everyone should at least try it once. I feel like no one would regret it, even if you’re not sure, even if you’re not vegan."

Evans notes, “The more vegan options mirror the conventional way of eating in America, the more people will transition over.”

Lowdown Vegan

1447 East McDowell Road
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Geri Koeppel is a professional writer, voracious reader, devoted traveler, and an amateur cook, wine drinker, birder and tennis player. She's lived and worked in Detroit, San Francisco, and Phoenix.
Contact: Geri Koeppel

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