It seems that the struggle is always real when it comes to finding food options that do the job of being a healthy source of nourishment and also appeals to our taste buds. Fortunately for those of us who live in, or frequent “The D,” Detroit Vegan Soul has come to the rescue, offering vegan and organic menu options that are both healthy and flavorful.
Owners Kirsten Ussery and Erika Boyd first began exploring their vegan business venture in 2012 when they began doing pop-ups and deliveries around the city. They started visiting places that typically people weren’t doing pop-ups in, such as at fitness facilities and even the Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. After receiving a healthy response to their delicious vegan cuisine, Kirsten and Erika were able to open Detroit Vegan Soul Restaurant in September of 2013.
Rolling out had the pleasure of speaking with the owners of the up-and-coming restaurant. Here’s what they had to say:
What was your inspiration for starting a vegan restaurant?
Ericka Boyd: Well, we wanted to bring something into the community offering healthier options. We both had been experimenting with vegan and vegetarian eating at different points in our life, and a pivotal moment was when my father passed away of cancer. I just really kind of looked at his life and tried to figure out what I could do to improve my life and be healthy. So with that, we went back to the vegan route again and started trying different things, as long as I could have some food that had flavor to it.
What was the initial reaction you received upon opening Detroit Vegan Soul?
Kirsten Ussery: We got a great response on our opening day. We had a line down the block and it was just packed. We anticipated having a positive response, but we didn’t anticipate it would be that huge, and it’s really just continued to grow year after year.
What are some of the challenges you face as business owners? What challenges have you faced as Black business owners?
KU: Well, there are a lot of challenges. You really have to be committed to what you’re doing. People will ask us “are you vegan?” and all of this kind of stuff, and it’s like “we’re doing this. We’re passionate about what we’re doing and it’s really our lifestyle, and I it think that if it wasn’t, we probably would’ve given up.” All kinds of things happen when you own a business. You can only anticipate as much as you can, but you can never completely anticipate everything. You really have to have a higher vision to stay committed to it.
EB: I guess the challenges of Black business owners sometimes is accessing the capital to be able to start a business or grow a business. Through our own means and also with the help of family we were able to do it, but it’s really hard for business owners, particularly when you’re a black business owner, to obtain, because accessing traditional funds is difficult in our community.
How do you keep your menu fresh, tasty, and soulful using only vegan ingredients?
EB: In traditional soul food, we put such an emphasis on animal protein, so it’s kind of like the main attraction of the meal and you just have a few vegetables sprinkled around. I think when you look back at what soul food really is, it’s a lot of plant-based foods, so to me, it’s not that hard to do, because I’m just removing the animal products.
What are some of your most popular dishes, and what are some of the dishes you would recommend?
EB: I would recommend the community try everything on the menu and keep an open mind and understand that Detroit Vegan Soul is an experience. It’s to mold people to things that are familiar to them, but do so in a way that is healthy and takes the emphasis off the animal protein. Detroit Vegan Soul is the place to really step out and explore and try different things because it’s nothing like anywhere else. Some of our most popular dishes are our Soul Platter of course, because of all of the traditional soul food elements. We have the mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, black eyed peas, rice, and our cornbread muffin. Our Seitan Pepper Steak is also very popular. That’s one of those dishes where people are like “I can’t believe this is not meat.” I’d say the third most popular dish is signature for us, and that’s our catfish tofu. You can have it on a sandwich, which is really good, or in a dinner that comes with sides.
What are your future plans for Detroit Vegan Soul?
KU: Continued growth, reaching more people, touching more people. Inspiring more people for change and a life of wellness, taking care of themselves, and making better choices. Detroit is its birthplace, but Detroit Vegan Soul has work to do around the world, so that’s what we intend to do. We’ll be opening our second location in northwest Detroit in a historical community called North Rosedale. We’re shooting for January, so that’s the plan right now — we’re getting our drawings together and hopefully we can squeeze in some soft openings in December before the holiday.
Next time you’re longing for healthy but fulfilling food, be sure to stop by Detroit Vegan Soul located at 8029 Agnes Street in the historic West Village of Detroit. They are open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 9pm and have Sunday brunch every Sunday from 11am to 3am. Also, do not forget to check out Detroit Vegan Soul at detroitvegansoul.com, as well as on Detroit Vegan Soul’s social media outlets.