For such a slim population—less than 500,000 residents—Sarasota County hosts an abundance of notable names and characters. So when footage of the Ritz-Carlton hotel perched on downtown Sarasota's bayfront filled the TV screen in Bad Vegan, it was no big surprise.
The popular docuseries follows the story of a New York City vegan hotspot, Pure Food and Wine, and its owner’s descent into what some might call madness and what others would call psychological coercion. In it, Pure Food and Wine owner Sarma Melngailis' husband, Anthony Strangis—who called himself Shane Fox—has a penchant for promising immortality and riches in exchange for passing cosmic tests of faith, usually in the form of money wires. Somehow, he manages to manipulate Melngailis, despite the outlandish claims.
Find the Sarasota scene in Season 1, Episode 3, called "No Angels in Hell." Strangis drives from New York City to Sarasota with his friend Nazim, where they stay at the Ritz-Carlton. Strangis' father, John Strangis Sr., a retired police officer from Massachusetts, lived in Sarasota for several years and passed away in 2012. In 2004, Strangis, then 23 at the time, lived with his father in Orange Acres trailer park, in southeast Sarasota when he met Avery. The purpose of this trip is to see Avery and their son, who he abandoned as a baby more than a decade before.
Avery, who also stars in Bad Vegan, shares a story about Strangis that's similar to Melngailis'. He told both women they were reincarnated lovers and they had traveled through time to be reunited. He also told Avery he had $5 million that never materialized, refused to get a job, and pawned her belongings before disappearing. Strangis was ultimately arrested in Sarasota in 2005 and charged with impersonating an officer.
According to The Daily Beast, in an exposé on Strangis first published in 2016, the year he and Melngailis were arrested, he was wanted in Sarasota County for violating probation on a grand larceny conviction and charged with being a fugitive. When The Daily Beast inquired about the charge, a Sarasota County sheriff’s spokeswoman said she had no record of Strangis, indicating the record was likely expunged.
Watch the series to find out how the couple finally crumbles amid the lies, the stealing and the demons–yes, there are demons in Bad Vegan, too.