Rundle Street is a hectic spot to operate a hospitality business. The sheer number of venues means competition is savage, and as a result shopfronts turn over regularly. Imagine single-handedly running a successful restaurant for over three decades with nothing more than a narrow doorway as street frontage. You’d need to be doing something pretty special.

That was the case for Robin Eastwood, who operated Vego and Loven It for 32 years, serving tasty plant-based food (at a time when it was still a rarity on Adelaide menus) to a community of loyal patrons. It was not uncommon to find the front door locked in the middle of the day – meaning they were at capacity. In August, Eastwood turned the key for good, and placed the business on the market.

The popular, poky diner – renamed Vego’s, its longstanding nickname – is now under the stewardship of Cherry Darlings owner Tim Salmon, himself a Vego’s veteran of 17 years.

“It was very much a staple for all the hardcore and punk kids back in the day,” he says. “It was the only place that did a [vegan] burger [where] you could come and you’d always be full. You’d at least felt like you’d eaten a bit of salad for the day – which as a 19-year-old is a big thing.”

The new Vego’s sticks to its proven formula, with a few additions. The bulk of the menu is burgers, accompanied by wraps, soups, salads, juices and smoothies. “We have a handwritten notebook with all Robin’s recipes – with ‘a dob of this’ and ‘a scoop of that’,” Salmon explains. “There’s a weird science to it. It’s like, this shouldn’t taste as good as it does, but it damn well does.”

Salmon has added vegan pies, cakes and slices made over at Cherry Darlings, plus a vegan mac’n’cheese. He'll soon introduce a gluten-free burger and gluten-free buns.

Vego’s is also pouring coffee from Sefton Park roaster The Coffee Barun and is the first venue to offer teas by new Adelaide tea-maker Coven.

Climbing the two flights of steep, narrow stairs to the boxy little dining room still feels very much like a trip to the same old Vego’s. “The space is what it is,” says Salmon. “[But] I’ve done a lot of cleaning up.”

Gone are the crowded pinboards, postcards, magazine clippings, record covers and photographs that were the interior’s second skin. Only choice items – like mosaic sculptures made by Eastwood himself – remain, and the walls have been given a fresh coat of paint. Salmon points to the signatures of Beastie Boys MCA and Mike D, scrawled directly onto the wall, that were hidden for years behind a painting.

The original kitchen bench has been moved to the dining room and refinished to become a share table. An original menu hangs in the bathroom (with burgers for $3.50), and a note Eastwood scrawled on a paper bag and displayed on the front door – “Forever I’ll be running this shop alone” – has been framed as a testament to the former owner’s dedication.

Importantly, the business hours will soon include Saturdays, with Salmon keen to pick up weekend trade.

240 Rundle Street, Adelaide
Mon to Fri 10.30–3.30