As a child, Skyler Tanksley was fascinated with savory meals and wild food combinations. When the term “foodie” was coined and sharing food photos on Instagram was all the rage, Skyler and his now-life partner Chloe Ruiz were on a mission to experience the sweetest, most savory, and craziest food places they could find: pizza inside of a burger, donut ice cream sandwiches… you get the idea.
Skyler recalls earning the title “The Human Yelps” from their friends. After experiencing unusual meals at restaurants, Skyler wanted to recreate them in his own kitchen. He would remake the meals, adjust the recipe, and repeat until he mastered the entrée. His creations were better than what he was eating in restaurants.
While on this ever-exciting food journey, Skyler developed digestive issues. Skyler’s friend Garrett Nibarger, referred to as “G” by his friends, took notice. As a ten-year vegan, G hypothesized that Skyler’s issue could stem from meat and dairy products. He decided to put this hypothesis to the test.
G would observe what types of meals Skyler was eating and within the week, bring him a vegan alternative for him to try. The gifted food wasn’t leafy greens and tofu. G brought vegan pizza, egg rolls, and tacos. Skyler, being hungry, open-minded, and an adventurous eater, always accepted the gifts and ate them with joy. After all, a pizza was still a pizza, right?
After a couple weeks, Skyler started to notice his digestive issues slowly fading. He concluded the vegan food he was eating from G must play a role, even a small role, in his improved health. He was feeling so much better. Skyler couldn’t help but to question it, "Is it really because it's vegan? That’s why my stomach accepts it? That can't be." But the proof was in the pudding or, in this case, in the vegan food.
With a father from southern Texas and an immigrant mother from Cambodia, Skyler grew up far from vegan. When it came to plant-based eating, he was starting from scratch. He began researching a plant-based diet. The benefits of veganism appealed to him; he was thrilled to learn it would lessen his carbon footprint and benefit the animals.
Still, Skyler was concerned he couldn’t commit to veganism. After a lifetime of eating meat and dairy, he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to give it up.
It all hit him one night. Skyler realized his love for food stemmed from the amazing combinations he could make, not the individual ingredients. He knew he wouldn’t have a problem eating vegan if he could “veganize” the food he was already eating. This realization opened up a world of possibilities for Skyler and it catalyzed his culinary passion.
Skyler and his business partner Leo Orange had already been working together helping business owners develop their brands and market their products. Their agency had consulted for multiple brands in the travel, hospitality, and food industries. They helped their clients achieve success. Skyler was confident they could use these skills and launch a project of their own: a vegan restaurant.
Skyler, Chloe, and G created a menu full of the foods they grew up eating. After months in the kitchen, Skyler was confident in the vegan versions of the dishes he had created. He was ready to share his food with the world. Munchies OC, the first version of Munchies Diner, held its first pop-up at the Blue Lot in Santa Ana in November of 2018.
“It was the most exhilarating day of our lives,” Skyler recalls. The community’s amazing reaction to Munchies made the team’s desire to serve the community grow. While most pop-ups operate one to three times a week, Munchies was open six days a week. Consumers wanted access and Munchies delivered. From the Blue Lot, Munchies traveled to 4th Street Market, a culinary hub in Santa Ana, and then went off to a variety of music festivals, including Coachella.
Now a standalone restaurant, Munchies Diner is a physical manifestation Skyler’s journey from meat-lover to vegan. It demonstrates the ways in which friends and family can play such a major role in our successes. Without his dates with Chloe, the gifted vegan food from G, or the business he created with Leo, it’s difficult to say if Munchies would be what it is today.
Munchies shows the power of community at large. Munchies OC was able to become Munchies Diner because of the people who showed up to eat Skyler’s food day after day at the Blue Lot. Seven months and 210 pop-up events later, Munchies Diner sits on N Bush Street in Downtown Santa Ana, serving the very same community.
Story by Mandy Tapfer & Veston Rowe
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