Upfield’s Violife vegan cheese brand announced the recipients of its 2021 Plant Grants, a new program aimed at making plant-based meals more delicious, affordable, and available in local communities. This year’s program aims to address the disproportionate challenges faced by Black-owned restaurants and communities, and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Five Black-owned restaurants have been selected to receive $20,000 each, as well as education and mentorship, to add new plant-based dishes to their menu and perform outreach in their communities. Restaurants are often the economic and cultural centers of their neighborhoods, and the goal of the Plant Grants program is to help these restaurants give everyone—vegans, flexitarians, and the plant-curious alike—an easy and inspired way to eat more plant-based food every day.
“With the 2021 Plant Grants program, we’re tackling plant-based food inequity head on by empowering Black-owned restaurants to offer more plant-based dishes to their communities— dishes that will delight customers and keep them coming back for more,” says Lisa Akey, head of Away from Home Marketing for Violife USA. The 2021 Plant Grants program is the first year of a planned annual initiative.
RZA, the legendary hip-hop artist and outspoken vegan advocate, is sharing his personal story of going plant-based, as well as what motivated him to become involved with Plant Grants. “I’m excited to work with the Plant Grants restaurants because they are on the front line of the plant-based revolution in their communities, through their recipes and the individual touch they put on their dishes to give their customers a great meal,” RZA says. “We are what we eat. For me, that means I still get to eat cheese—vegan cheese from Violife—and with their help, I get to convince people to switch to foods made from plants because they taste good, they’re affordable, and there is a whole lot of variety to choose from. It’s a journey, which is why we need more restaurants like these grantees to help show us the way with delicious plant-based food.”
Two vegan chef pioneers have also signed on to help the grantees create new plant-based recipes and get their communities involved. Chefs Lemel Durrah of California’s Compton Vegan and Laricia Chandler Baker (aka “Chef Fab”) of Chicago’s Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat have been at the forefront of the plant-based movement for years. As the 2021 Plant Grants Chef Mentors, they are working side-by-side with the grantees to provide guidance on everything from menu development to community outreach, as well as building a successful plant-based restaurant business.
The 2021 Plant Grants recipients share a passion for plant-based eating and have already started making a positive impact in their communities though their food.
- Seasoned Vegan is owned and operated by mother-and-son team Brenda and Aaron Beener and located in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Their menu of organic, 100 percent vegan meals are a unique type of cuisine that the Beeners call gourmet vegan soul food—globally-inspired dishes with a soulful twist.
- Meek’s Vegan Pizza is operated by native New Yorker Demetrius Walker, who brings New York–style vegan pizza to Houston, with the intention of introducing people to veganism through one of America’s favorite foods. Demetrius was inspired to establish Meek’s Vegan Pizza as a result of the struggle to find vegan foods for his 9-year-old son. Demetrius is making the transition to vegan easy and delicious through the familiarity of a comfort food staple.
- Supreme Oasis Bakery and Deli (SOBAD) is based in Philadelphia and run by Nuyen Emanuel and her daughter, Shon, who has been deemed the “Vegan Goddess” by loyal customers. The restaurant was founded by Nuyen’s father in Baltimore 30 years ago, and she honors his legacy with delicious wholesome food at affordable prices, that is pork-free, MSG-free, trans-fat free and increasingly vegan. SOBAD partners with a local university, hospitals, and other organizations to provide free meals to their community.
- Vegans on the Run LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana is family-owned and operated by three generations of women including owner Dr. Joslin Mar-Dai Pickens, her daughter, Jalynn Mar’Dai, mother Linda Pickens, and sister Dr. Kimberly. They are on a mission to introduce plant-based eating to customers and give back to the community through providing free “Grab ‘n Go” meals for the elderly and partnering with a local university by offering free cooking classes to college students. Joslin offers traditional comfort foods that she grew up eating but with a unique 100 percent vegan twist, with an aim to change the face and taste of vegan food in her community.
- Plant Power Café & Juice Bar is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and run by Aurellia Alexandre. Opened in November 2016, the restaurant has been a turning point for the community which had not had a vegan restaurant before then. It boasts one of the largest vegan comfort food menus in the city with easy access, availability, and reasonable fares so more people can experience a plant-based lifestyle. Plant Power Café & Juice Bar believes in feeding anyone who comes in the café, if they can afford a meal or not, and has a history of feeding the homeless at no cost.