How a Montreal vegan cook is making it her mission to open people’s minds, one meal at the time.
By Marie-Ève Venne
It’s 3 P.M. on a hot and suffocating summer afternoon, as I meet MJ Guertin in the Mile End, in front of what is about to be her new restaurant Mimi & Jones.
“Sorry for the mess – I was supposed to come earlier and clean a little bit. It’s slowly taking form, though,” she declares as we step inside the space she is renting.
For a few weeks now, she’s been working nonstop on giving life to her new project, while still supervising the operations at her other restaurant, Sata Sushi. Located on Ave. Parc, Mimi & Jones is a vegan diner that will serve comfort food, along with homemade raviolis and milkshakes.
“I didn’t want to go for something overly complicated. I think the best way to reach people is to serve them food that they already enjoy. I want to show people that eating vegan is not exclusively quinoa and seeds. I am personally obsessed with pasta, and I love making my own take on vegan raviolis,” she explains.
As for the vibe of the place, she is going for reminiscent of retro diners, with a sleek white counter and high stools, a black and white checkered floor, and music posters that she bought while she was still living in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been doing a lot of back and forth over the past years. I love Montreal, but I’ve always felt like I needed to explore more. I lived two years in Los Angeles, where they have an incredible vegan scene. I actually always thought that I would open my second restaurant there, but at some point, I had to come back here to take care of Sata. And I never went back. It’s okay, I feel like there is more that I can do here to help the cause.”
Vegan for over 10 years now, she has been spreading her message of compassion, with her cooking as the messenger.
“I used to eat meat without asking myself any questions. One day, as I was driving, I came across a truck full of pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. You could clearly see the fear in their eyes. It shocked me! I had to stop on the side of the road because my whole body was shaking. That is the moment that changed everything. I could no longer eat meat. I started “[doing]” research on the meat industry and what I discovered disgusted me forever.”
“For me, it’s mostly about not being selective with my compassion, and I think every human should do the same. We are the most evolved species, and still, we keep on coming up with excuses for giving our affection to only a few living creatures. It doesn’t make sense to me,” she adds.
That high sensitivity and empathy for others is something that radiates from MJ as soon as you meet her. She automatically makes you feel at ease, while still forcing you to rethink the way you go through life embracing habits that have been engrained in you from an early age.
“No one is born a carnivore. We are simply conditioned.”