Gambling On Different

Beyond the Flame with Garrett Greer

Please note that Garrett’s vegan fast casual restaurant is now called The Brave Bean. This story was developed prior to the name update.

As life stories go, few match up to the inspiration and perseverance of Garrett Greer’s.

It was mid-September when we synced up with Garrett for a backyard cookout with close friends. We brought the grill. He brought the flavor. While we fired up his Nexgrill 5-burner Evolution, his friends filtered in with coolers full of plant-based ingredients. Vegan brats and Impossible patties, vegan cheeses, buns, homemade sauces, a few bottles of vino… a full spread of treats for the evening ahead.

As the party unfolded, we spoke with Garrett about his background, his restaurant, family, friends, his poker career, and his love for grilling.

Garrett is the owner of The Brave Bean (previously known as The Black Bean), a vegan fast casual restaurant that began in Fountain Valley, CA. He’s also a professional poker player with millions in career winnings. Social, handsome, and razor sharp, Garrett’s achieved incredible success. Yet his path to get there has been filled with trials few others could endure. This is Beyond the Flame with Garrett Greer.

garrett holding burger

March 27th, 2010

Fresh out of UCLA with a degree in sociology, Garrett had his sights set on a career in film and television. He was interning at a production management company in L.A., and on March 26th, 2010, he earned his first real paycheck. On March 27th, 2010, while hanging with friends at a backyard pool, he broke his neck and drowned.

“I don't have much recollection of that day at all,” he says. “I wake up on a Monday afternoon at like 5:00 or 6:00 PM out of a coma with pneumonia in a hospital, knowing something's wrong but not knowing exactly what.”

garrett holding burger

It wasn’t until Tobin (the friend who resuscitated him) recounted the day’s events that Garrett realized how lucky he was to be alive. The accident would leave him a quadriplegic, unable to walk and with limited mobility in his arms. Yet for Garrett and his resilient spirit, it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of a new way of life.

The Days and Decisions that Followed

Just two days after waking up from his coma, a difficult choice was thrust upon Garrett. He was raised by his grandparents in a loving home, but with their age and months of rehabilitation ahead, they were no longer in a position to take care of him.

“I had to decide whether or not I was going to live with my aunt or my father,” says Garrett. With his father unfit to take him in, Garrett chose to go home with his aunt. “I moved in with her in June of 2010, and then in December of 2010, my aunt and uncle got divorced. They notified me that I had four months left in the house. I needed to figure out what I was going to do, or else I was going to end up in an assisted living facility.”

garrett holding burger

Playing the Hand He Was Dealt

“At this point, I had no money. I had nothing to my name. No income,” he says. “I decided to hop on my PokerStars account, see if I could make some magic happen.”

“I started with 99 cents on January 15th of 2011. Fast-forward to April 9th of 2011, I have 50K real money, and I'm signing a lease on my own one-bedroom apartment. Poker saved my life.”

Yet still, Garrett’s trials weren’t finished. “I'd signed my lease on April 9th, but on April 15th, there was something called Black Friday. It was every online poker player's worst nightmare. You log on to play and there's a big DOJ symbol. Department of Justice. Just, blam! The site's shut down.”

After 3 weeks of time and uncertainty, he was able to retrieve his money. He took his $50k and found another site to play on, this time being more cautious. “This time I deposited a hundred bucks. Fast forward 10 months, and I turned it into $111,000. Then in early 2013, I played my first big buy-in live tournament–a $10,000 tournament called LAPC–and I ended up getting 7th place for $163,000. And I just thought, "Maybe this is it for me."

garrett holding burger

Garrett continued playing poker online and in live events to great success. Taking 6th place in the Bay 101 tourney for $174k, finishing 32nd in the 2014 Main Event for $230k, and splitting the 1st place prize at the Five Diamond Tournament at the Bellagio for $1.16 million.

“It's crazy to think that, four years prior, I was sitting in my aunt's living room, not knowing what I was going to do with my life. And four years later, I'm there winning a million dollars.”

Garrett’s Path to Veganism

Despite his insane success in poker, Garrett still felt something nagging at his conscience. “I became aware of the other professionals in my field. And I started to have this sense of guilt. When I'm playing poker and when I'm doing my best, I'm literally providing people a disservice.”

“Now, I know when you enter a poker tournament or you sit down at a cash game, it's your choice. But, personally, I felt like I was feeding a system that was bad for a lot of people. So I started to think, "What can I do to sort of replace this negative that I've created?" It’s around this time that Garrett started playing with his diet, and eventually stumbled into veganism.

garrett holding burger

“Once I committed to a vegan diet, my digestive problems were gone. I felt very mentally clear. And it just seemed like something that I could be pretty confident I was going to spend the rest of my life being involved in.”

The Next Gamble: Becoming a Restaurateur

Garrett’s discovery of veganism awakened a new path. He was healthier, more focused, and felt a connection to the universe that had never before taken hold.

He began researching ways to make vegan food accessible to the masses. “I decided to open a vegan restaurant,” he says. “I had no experience in the restaurant world, but it's just something that I've always believed in.”

garrett holding burger

Roughly a year later, Garrett and his partner Michelle opened The Black Bean, a vegan fast casual restaurant that serves animal-free takes on traditional American comfort food.

When you first walk into The Black Bean, there’s a motto that reads “The Black Bean, Free-from-Guilt Food.” “We’re trying to eliminate all the reasons why you could feel bad for something,” he says.

garrett holding burger

True to his word, at The Brave Bean there are no single use plastics, straws made from sustainable plant materials, even the wood paneling on the walls is made from reclaimed forest fire wood. 90% of the food is made in-house by a kind and lively staff. And with menu items like The Buff Chick, The Pulled Porque, and Animal Lover Fries (a take on In-N-Out’s animal fries), Garrett and his partner are making a vegan diet accessible and appetizing for even the largest skeptics.

Forwarding the Vegan Grilling Movement at OC Vegan Fest

While most brick-and-mortar restaurants don’t take part in events, Garrett and his team are enthusiastic participants at local events like the OC Vegan Fest. “Whenever there is a solid festival that's doing it for the right reasons and not just because of money, and it's ran by good people, we're going to be there.”

"When I woke up out of my coma, I wasn't like, "Oh, my God. How could you do this to me?" My first thought was, "So where do I go from here? What do I do now?"

Catching up with Garrett at OC Vegan fest, he expressed his gratitude and amazement at how far the vegan movement has come. “When you see a line of 50 people long at your tent, you feel that instant gratification of, I'm making the right decision and I've achieved what I've been looking for.”

Back at the Grill with Friends

While grills are traditionally associated with burgers, dogs, and steaks, there’s recently been an outpouring of vegan grilling options that are perfect for the Nexgrill. “I think grills are just a utility to do what you choose to do on them. And what I choose to do is going to be very similar to what everybody else does, just with a little tweak,” says Garrett. “We're still going to grill up burgers and dogs and brats. But they're just going to be faux meats.”

After more than a year spent developing vegan recipes for The Black Bean, we asked Garrett for any advice to help vegans get in touch with their grills.

“There's just little tweaks here and there, where you can actually amplify how good something is going to taste, just by using a couple of tools or a little manipulation. Like, if you can create a way to steam while grilling, it can melt your cheese better. Just pay attention to why you're cooking it, and your mind will expand on how to make it taste better.”

Get Garrett’s Recipe for Grilled Vegan Portobello Cheesesteaks

shot of workshop audience

Surrounded by friends and family, Garrett raises a toast to all they’ve achieved together, and all that lies ahead.

A grill really is the center of a good time.

“My favorite thing about grilling is definitely community, because I don't know about everybody else, but I've never eaten alone at a grill. So if there's a grill around, that means there's family or friends around. It’s highly likely going to be music and laughter and fun, and I mean, a grill really is the center of a good time.”

Special thanks to Garrett Greer, Michelle Wolf, their beautiful friends, OC Vegan Fest, and everyone at The Brave Bean for making this story possible, and taking us Beyond the Flame.

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