We are delighted to let you know about the first blog post from our super star blogger, travel writer and author of the Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide Teresa Bergen – who is based in Portland, Oregon.
The famous car-centric American city of Detroit has fallen on hard times. The decline of the car industry, race riots and the city declaring bankruptcy in 2013 have all been low points in Detroit history. But as many Detroiters moved out, giving up on the city, it’s made room for small, entrepreneurial businesses to revitalize Detroit.
Detroit Vegan Soul is one such business. This only-in-Detroit restaurant veganizes traditional African American soul food.
If you’re not familiar with soul food, this meat-heavy type of cuisine springs from the American South. While vegans can appreciate mustard greens, black-eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread, they won’t like the accompanying pig knuckles, hog jowls and lard.
The owners of Detroit Vegan Soul are two African American women and life partners, Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery. “We became vegan for health reasons, just to break the cycle of disease in our family,” Ussery told me during my recent visit. After Boyd lost her father to cancer, the two decided to adopt a vegan diet.
Before opening their restaurant, Ussery worked in public relations and Boyd was a barber. They started out small, doing meal delivery and catering as a sideline, “just to see how people would receive it,” Ussery said. “We wanted to share the type of food that we liked to eat.”
The concept has caught on surprisingly well, drawing a mixed race crowd that fills the small restaurant even on a weekday night. Boyd and Ussery are planning a second location in the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood of Detroit.
The light, clean décor favors green and white. Our table of three started with black-eyed pea hummus and Southern fried tofu bites with spicy buffalo dipping sauce. Black-eyed peas can be a bit dull, but the garlic and spices livened them up. The deep-fried tofu bites were tasty if not as healthy as some of the other menu items.
Probably the best single thing to order is the soul food platter, which includes mac and cheese, collards, maple smoked yams, black eyed peas and a cornbread muffin. All vegan, of course. This gives you the best opportunity to experience veganized soul food on a single plate. For some extra greens, we added the sesame-kale salad, which was well-massaged and tender. Detroit Vegan Soul also makes its own coconut bacon, which was dark, crumbly and smoky-tasting.
If you still have room, DVS offers smoothies and vegan milkshakes, and a revolving choice of desserts. The night I was there, choices were strawberry or peach cobbler. But I was too full to do more than admire the dessert case.
In its first four years of business, DVS has garnered acclaim and awards, including PETA’s Compassionate Business Award in 2014. That same year, local paper MetroTimes deemed them “Best Soul Food in Detroit,” vegan or not.
DVS buys its seasonal organic produce from local farms like Keep Growing Detroit and D Town Farms, then returns its food waste to these farms for composting and fertilizer. Businesses like Detroit Vegan Soul and people like Boyd and Ussery are Detroit’s best hope for a renaissance, and for fostering healthy citizens through good vegan food.
Read more about Teresa here on VeggieVision TV and check out her website too: