Of course I was excited to see my old friend Ray Cappo at yesterday’s Glass House show because I’d never seen him play with Youth of Today. But I was also excited because a trip to Pomona meant I could drive by Covina Tasty. I wrote an article about Mark Tsai’s fast-food joint in Giant Robot 65. He opened a Tastee Freeze franchise in 1961 and then started replacing the meat with vegetarian substitutes. Although the company tried to shut him down, Mark persisted and operates to this day.
The left side of the restaurant sells official Tastee Freeze frozen desserts. Although TZ suits were unhappy about Mark deviating from the official menu–and their meat-selling distribution model–his business was so strong that they came back to him with desserts. It’s packed on summery nights and allows him to maintain the vegetarian side, which is his labor of love. Customers who choose not to eat meat don’t number as high as the ones with sweet tooths, but they are extra dedicated and drive from all over. I happen to fall into both categories.
I’ve only seen people in the covered section of Covina Tasty once, and that was Mark and me when I interviewed him for the article. He was reluctant to talk but turned out to be very passionate about the health benefits and economy of vegetarianism, as well as the wastefulness of the meat industry in terms of water, grains, and the environment. But he wasn’t on any soapbox. How tough can a guy be if he makes and invents shakes and sundaes for a living? He also happens to be an artist who paints during the restaurant’s downtime. You can see his latest works (and works in progress) in the patio.
When I first met Mark, he was planning on retiring. But I’m glad changed his mind because his story is awesome and inspirational and his vegetarian taquitos and mocha icy are the best road food ever.