How black-owned vegan restaurants in the West End foreshadowed Atlanta’s passion for plants

The raw reality of Tassili in 2019

Photograph by Cori Carter

State Rep. El-Mahdi Holly is a longtime customer of Soul Vegetarian #1, where he’s a particular fan of the roasted kalebone starter, a high-gluten dish that mimics meatloaf. , and that he orders with two sides: vegan and sweet macaroni and cheese. potatoes. A lifelong vegetarian, Holly started dating the West End stalwart in 1995, during her second year at Morehouse College, long before plant-based food became a city-wide trend, and before recent development brought new interest to the area.

“You had a relatively intact community of self-aware African Americans, religious institutions and business owners. It created, or at least helped sustain, a community,” Holly recalls. “I was made to feel like I was part of something much bigger than just being a student on campus.” A sense of connectedness to community-wide health and wellbeing has long been a common bond in the West End. Although he now lives in McDonough, Holly regularly visits the Old Quarter, whose food brings him back to a familiar feeling. When we spoke recently, Holly had just completed the 2022 legislative session, where lawmakers passed legislation banning the teaching of ‘dividing’ concepts related to race and racism. He seemed relieved to be done with it, especially as someone who, by going to college where he did, had already experienced some of the history that his colleagues were trying to silence. “It’s one thing to learn about our heritage by reading textbooks or listening to speakers,” Holly said. “But when you walk about a mile from campus and find yourself in this oasis of all-local black intelligence and culture, you feel right at home.”

West End led the way in serving plant-based practitioners in Atlanta, connected to – but also distinct from – the contemporary popularity of vegetarian and vegan restaurants here today. In a way, customer dedication to these businesses has helped the neighborhood keep money flowing from the community, which has paved the way for hotspots like Slutty Vegan. But there was also a sense of unity that linked the idea of ​​survival from the physical to the political. You weren’t taking a selfie after being “slutty”, you were participating in collective empowerment.

Soul Vegetarian is most often credited with starting the wave of black vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta. But the company was not born in the West End. Members of the African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem launched the first Soul Veg in 1979 on Peachtree Street. The restaurant expanded in 1980 to Chicago, where it first caught the attention of Xakkai Ben Adahm. Ben Adahm was a high school student in Chicago when his older brother, a Nation member, changed his eating habits to align with the group’s beliefs. After realizing what he calls his “political and spiritual background,” Ben Adahm followed suit, moving at his brother’s invitation to Atlanta in 1999. He soon began working for Soul Vegetarian, which had then moved into his current digs on Ralph David. Abernathy Blvd.

Today, Ben Adahm has been the Managing Director of Soul Veg for over a decade and has seen his impact on the surrounding community: “We have about eight vegan establishments within a one square mile radius in the West End”, says Ben Adahm, including Tassili’s. Raw Reality, Bakaris Plant Based Pizza, Vegan Dream Donuts and Slutty Vegan in nearby Westview. “If you talk to the owners, they’ll tell you they’re long-time Soul Vegetarian customers,” continues Ben Adahm. “That’s how they got the inspiration to do what they do.”

“Soul Vegetarian is the anchor,” says Traci Thomas, founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia, who also credits the Shrine of the Black Madonna, part of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church, with spreading the news of the benefits plant-based diets. . This move was part of a historic trend that goes back centuries, says Zachary “Big Zak” Wallace: “American soul food was based on leftovers. You give us the pork innards, then we take it and make chitlins. , then, we season it and rejoice. I think a lot of those beliefs were tied to religion. Your everyday black Christian or Catholic or Presbyterian – we’re still all connected around unhealthy food.

Wallace owns Local Green Atlanta, a restaurant on the edge of the West End in Vine City, where he sells vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian food. When Wallace launched the company — as a food truck in 2018 and then as a brick-and-mortar the following year — it was with a keen awareness of the disproportionate death rates from hypertension, cancer and heart disease. diabetes in the black community. He decided not to put a fryer in the restaurant. “We want you to eat things that give us vitality, life, energy and everything else,” he said.

And that’s all the love in the West End, says Tassili Ma’at, owner of Raw Reality, of his food-earth neighbors new and old. “They are not my competitors,” Ma’at said. “If we were open 24/7, we still wouldn’t be able to feed everyone who needs healthy food. So, let’s share the wealth. Let’s share the healing for the people. It’s a message Ma’at amplifies regularly, from her social media accounts to events in her restaurant’s courtyard to her new book, Journey to Self-Fullness, which advocates for the pursuit of a healthy revolution. in Atlanta.

“What does a modern-day revolutionary look like? said Maat. “Most of our activists did not die from their incarceration.” By not taking care to include more raw fruits and vegetables in their diets, she believes, some of the best and brightest black activists have fallen victim to diseases like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure – and have lost their potential to create change in their communities. But still a healer, Ma’at has a dietary prescription for a healthier world: “Being able to fight for food justice and choose life is probably the most revolutionary thing you can do right now.”

More black-owned vegetarian restaurants around Atlanta

VBQ Grass Seal
The bad news is that owner Terry Sargent recently closed his Stone Mountain brick and mortar; the good news is that he is now doing ITP business, currently parking his food truck at Triton Yards as he works towards a new location. Grass VBQ’s hallmark is its all-vegan Southern-style barbecue, with veteran chef Sargent smoking fake meats — jackfruit, mushrooms, wheat gluten, and more. – on a mix of hickory, maple and cherry wood.

GAS Food Truck
The acronym stands for Good Azz Sandwiches, and the theme is “420” – foods you’ll want to eat when you’re high. So: New York-style cheeseburgers and minced meat, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, loaded fries, all made with sausages and vegetable patties. You can usually find these folks Wednesday through Sunday at the Triton Yards food truck park (View of the Capitol).

Vegetable Pizzeria
Owners Paul Jordan and Marisa Acoff use Beyond meat on their pizzas, but they also go beyond pizza, with other all-vegan Italian dishes like baked spaghetti, fettuccine alfredo and calzones. If you’re here for the pie, check out the Georgia Peach, topped with vegan sausage and mozz, peaches, jalapeños, and red onion. Gluten-free crusts are available. Virginia-Highland; Sand springs

BAD Vegan Gyal
This brand new addition to the Marietta Square Market of Chyna Love, who started the business in New York, serves up Caribbean fusion specialties like “voxtails” (i.e. vegan oxtails), rolls of spring with ackee, cauliflower wings and more. Love also provides nationwide shipping of some of its food and related products. Mariette

Vegan slut
Perhaps you have heard of it? Pinky Cole’s wildly successful business – born as a food truck, now with permanent locations in Westview, O4W, Jonesboro, Duluth and Athens – serves huge, messy, all-vegan burgers with names like One Night Stand (with fake bacon and cheese and caramelized onions) and the po’boy-ish Heaux Boy. Great fries too. Multiple locations —Sam Worley

Return to The pleasure of vegetables

This article originally appeared in our June 2022 issue.

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