You’ve made your way through Netflix’s latest true crime series but what actually happened to the couple at the centre of Bad Vegan – Sarma Melngailis and her ex-husband Anthony Strangis? Scroll on to find out more.
Just when you thought Netflix couldn’t give us anything anything more jaw-dropping in the documentary stakes, it continues to amaze us. After tearing through The Tinder Swindler and being continually freaked out by Worst Roommate Ever, Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives is the wild new documentary dominating the streaming platform these past couple of weeks.
Bad Vegan may not be a food-focused film but it does centre on the scandal behind one of New York’s most popular vegan restaurants, Pure Food And Wine.
Specifically, the woman behind it all: Sarma Melngailis aka the ‘queen of vegan cuisine’.
From the first episode, it’s clear to see Melngailis’ impact not only on the restaurant scene, but also on the wider understanding of raw vegan cuisine. Her vision revolutionised what people understood about plant-based diets, but this series is far from a happy story. It’s full of scandal, deception and coercive relationships – which makes for a twisted documentary and one where you never quite know what’s around the corner.
It seems, though, that Melngailis wants to set the record straight about a few things.
In a recent post to her blog Sarma Raw, the ex-restauranteur criticised the new Netflix documentary and specifically, how it ended. She addressed the circulating rumours about being paid for the docuseries (she wasn’t), but clarifies that she insisted any payments be sent to her ex-employees. She writes:
“In my case, however, and at my insistence, the producers made an exception so that I could pay the total amount my former employees were owed –amounts that accrued after my disappearance in 2015. Of all the harm and the many debts resulting from my downfall, this portion weighed heaviest.”
She continues: “I think Bad Vegan conveys what anyone that knew me understood, which is that I was very close with so many of the employees over the years, and intentionally harming them is just about the last thing I’d have done. The good people who’d worked at the business back then were right to be devastated and angry.
“The point is… beyond getting former employees repaid, I did not otherwise profit from Bad Vegan. Netflix and/or the producers can confirm this.”
Melngailis also addressed the surprise ending, which saw her and Anthony Strangis share a rather odd phone call. She also writes: “The ending of Bad Vegan is disturbingly misleading; I am not in touch with Anthony Strangis and I made those recordings at a much earlier time, deliberately, for a specific reason.”
She adds: “There’s a lot Bad Vegan gets right, but it’s hard not to get stuck on the things that aren’t right or leave an inaccurate impression. Later, I’d like to clear up more.”
If, like us, you’ve torn through the four episodes, you’ll probably be left with one major thing on your mind: what actually happened to the couple at the centre of it?
At the heart of the docuseries is the bizarre relationship that unfolded between Melngailis and Anthony Strangis. Even from its inception, the relationship struck us as a little out of the ordinary – they did start off their relationship on Words With Friends, after all.
But what soon transpired was the fact that Strangis was not who he claimed to be. He told Melngailis that he was Shane Fox and hid the fact that he had previously been in jail for fraudulent activity, including impersonating a police officer.
If you’ve watched the series, you’ll know that what transpired (the downfall of the restaurant, the fraud and the money problems) was largely down to Strangis. So where is he now?
What happened to Anthony Strangis?
To be honest, this serial fraudster gave Simon Leviev a run for his money. And that’s saying something.
Strangis used a multitude of aliases and continued to dominate Melngailis’ life by putting her through ‘tests’. Ultimately, getting her to sabotage her own booming business for his own financial gain.
We learned during the documentary that this kind of weird relationship dynamic was not a rarity – he had actually left his previous girlfriend (and mother of his child), Stacy, completely randomly one day. Before doing so, he’d been keen to express how easy it would be to kill their child. He claimed a baby could be killed with salt as it “wouldn’t show up in an autopsy”. The reason for airing the idea? Because he told Stacy that there were “demons after him”.
Between leaving Stacy and taking over Melngailis’ life, Strangis had tallied up a couple of convictions – including impersonating a police officer and stealing a sports car in Florida, which led to a grand theft charge.
After being arrested in 2016 with Melngailis and charged with 24 counts – including grand larceny – Strangis was left in prison for a year awaiting trial after not being able to pay his bail charges.
He was sentenced to five years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to charges of grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and scheming to defraud in 2017. In total, he served just over a year on remand after his initial arrest in 2016.
As you can hear in the very first opening scenes of the documentary, he and Melngailis remain on speaking terms – although they’re fraught and toxic, if those recorded calls are anything to go by. Not much is known about his current whereabouts, but we do know from what he said to Melngailis that he’s not a fan of the Netflix documentary being made.
What happened to Sarma Melngailis?
While the documentary does centre on Melngailis, it does leave out one more recent – and provocative – detail. In 2019, it was revealed that the restaurateur had embarked on an affair with her defence attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, who was married and representing Melngailis at the time.
In a series of text messages and an exposé in the New York Post, Melngailis dished many details on the romantic encounter and stated, upon finding out about his marital status, that “it just hurts a bit”.
Prior to that, she had divorced Strangis in 2018 and spent a total of four months in Rikers Island prison after taking a plea deal.
As of now, she’s still living in New York with her dog – who knows, she may open up a vegan spin-off restaurant sooner than we think.