The legendary vegan restaurant in Chicago will be renamed, rebuilt and reopened after the pandemic
Soul Vegetarian East – also known to its legions of fans as Original Soul Veg or just Soul Veg – was born ahead of its time. It opened in south Chicago in 1981 and was leap years ahead of the rise of veganism. The niche kitchen without animal products at that time became a staple food in the neighborhood thanks to the menu with hearty, fresh and homemade dishes. The son and daughter of the original founder, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, have been pioneers from the start, driving Soul Veg into the future with a new name, new menus, a new makeover and the same commitment to high quality vegan food in an underserved area. On June 19–June th– This family owned restaurant will reopen in its original location as Soul Veg City.
The rebirth of the soul
In 2017, Ben Israel’s children, Arel Brown and Lori Seay, received a Chicago City grant to invest in Soul Veg as a major pillar of the Chatham neighborhood. Seay received the message through a call from then Mayor Rahm Emanuel while she was waiting at the car wash. She was overjoyed. “This was made possible by the city through revenue generated by downtown businesses,” Seay told VegNews. “The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund enables BIPOC-owned small businesses in the South, West and Southwest neighborhoods to grow, and it was exactly what we needed.” Brown and Seay have run the restaurant since 2009 and immediately started designing theirs Soul Veg City rebranded to capture the popular restaurant’s ambitious goals and expanded vision.
The sibling duo looked at other locations in the Chatham neighborhood, but ultimately decided to buy and completely redesign the building that the restaurant had already occupied. Faltered by the global pandemic, Seay and Brown decided to move on to to-go and wholesale orders, postponing the grand reopening for a time when Chicago was prepared to reopen.
“The pandemic has given us the time to stop working so hard in day-to-day business and mainly focus on rebuilding,” says Seay. Chicago officially opened on June 11th, just before it officially reopened as Soul Veg City.
The aesthetics of the soul
Most of the changes with the new Soul Veg City are cosmetic in nature to catapult the restaurant into the 21st century. The main dining room has been opened and expanded, there is self-service seating for the hot bar and salad bar, and customers can now enjoy an outdoor terrace in the warmer months. There is also a new selfie wall with a “100% Vegan Vibes” message in neon light as a nod to their social media savvy guests. The entire space has been updated with shades of purple and gold, exposed brick walls, and marble and wood, combining inviting soul vibes with a modern, chic aesthetic.
Eating the soul
While the physical changes are significant, the deeper structural changes will further enhance every guest’s experience. With the reopening, there will be a bar with beer and wine and a pizza oven that will cheer on vegan pita-style cakes and slices. The previous menu with juicy, battered chick’n drumsticks with homemade bleu cheese, down home BBQ twist sandwiches with hearty seitan and thick, blackened tofu on a soft brown cannot be overshadowed – it is only being revised a little. Take the new Marvelous Mushroom Burger, for example. “It was a popular black-eyed pea burger that has been on our menu for years, but our chef Lori recently added mushrooms to the recipe, which made the burgers even juicier and heartier,” enthuses Brown. The siblings also found that 90 percent of the Soul Veg City menu is homemade – from seitan and vegan cheese to desserts and soft ice cream.
“I envision that we are a one-stop premier vegan location for non-vegans and vegans alike,” says Brown. “Soul Veg City will be a welcoming place where we will educate, inspire and serve amazing value for money like we always have been but now on the next level.”
Soul Veg City will reopen on June 19, 2021. Follow the restaurant up Instagram for opening times.
Marla Rose is co-founder of VeganStreet.com.
Photo credit: Soul Veg City