Couple Shares Passion for Health, Comfort Food & Community

Detroit Vegan Soul to Open Second Location

BY DAVID RYALS

Co-owners Erika Boyd, executive chef, and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd, general manager, have established one of the most beloved vegan restaurants in the downtown and Metro Detroit areas.

During the past four years, Detroit Vegan Soul has become a staple in West Village among eaters who are looking for a healthy, high quality meal. Some of its most famous customers are Stevie Wonder, Wu-Tang Clan members, MC Hammer and former President Bill Clinton.

Successful co-owners Kirsten Ussery-Boyd, general manager and Erika Boyd, executive chef, have established one of the most beloved vegan restaurants in the downtown and Metro Detroit areas. Even PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was impressed and gave DVS the number one spot on a list of best vegan soul food restaurants across the country last year.

"Thanks to Detroit Vegan Soul, diners can enjoy all the lip-smacking flavor of classic soul food--minus the cruelty and cholesterol," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Remain told Daily Detroit.

On Aug. 12, Ussery-Boyd (38, a North Carolina native) and Boyd, (43, a northwest Detroit native) will open their second location in the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood.

And they will do it again as a couple. They met 13 years ago at a party and both had the mutual desire to start a business. They had romantic chemistry immediately. They soon discovered a big shared passion was health. Both women came from families plagued by bad health.

Through tons of research, they decided that switching to a plant-based diet would be the healthiest thing for them to break out of the familial cycle. With this knowledge, mutual desire and lifestyle change came the culmination of a unique idea to open their own restaurant.

When the U.S. Supreme Court passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2013 they tied the knot. As an ambitious lesbian couple they have grown stronger together with their flourishing business. And because of their success, they were recently given a $60,000 Motor City Match grant, and with it they bought a building last year to open their second location, roughly the same size as their first location, a 1,200-square-foot space. They plan to hire another 20-25 employees.

The opening of a second location comes at a time when people are starting to make healthier food choices. Research shows that Metro Detroit is still one of the unhealthiest cities in America. What another Detroit Vegan Soul location brings is jobs and a stable, healthy alternative inside a 2.5-mile area flooded with fast food eateries. They partner with local food providers such as The Brinery, Earthworks, Keep Growing Detroit and D Town farms, which provide their seasonal organic produce and they give them their food waste for composting to help them fertilize their farm.

Ussery-Boyd spoke with BTL about the new location, their role in Detroit's LGBTQ community and more.

How did Detroit Vegan Soul come about? What was the inspiration?

Detroit Vegan Soul was born out of our own personal journeys to break the cycle of disease in our families. We were getting into juicing, fasting and experimenting with vegetarian food but Erika's father passing of prostate cancer was the pivotal moment for us. He never smoked or drank, but had a horrible standard American diet. It prompted us to delve deeper into the relationship between food and disease prevention and how food can reverse diet related diseases such as diabetes and cancer. We watched documentaries, read books, took in as much information as we could. When Erika began veganizing family recipes there was no turning back. We became vegan, felt amazing and wanted to help others transition. Detroit Vegan Soul was born. We started out with meal delivery, catering and pop ups all while we were working other jobs. We got a lot of support and followers and, not to make it sound easy or simplistic, but a year later we were working on opening our first restaurant.

What are your projections and hopes for your second location?

We anticipate our second location being even busier than the first. In the neighborhood where we have opened there aren't currently any other healthy options. The neighborhood is super excited for us to be open. The community is so welcoming and we're excited to be there.

Since the restaurant's inception, in what ways has it impacted Detroit and the Metro Area?

We like to think that we've played a big part in the rejuvenation of Detroit's neighborhoods. Detroit has always had wonderful, close knit neighborhoods but the commercial corridors had emptied out over the years. Agnes street, where our first location is located in Historic West Village neighborhood, was empty. After we opened, it was a domino effect. Now there's another restaurant, coffee shop, and cycle shop offering spin classes on the block. Down the street on Kercheval more restaurants and businesses are coming. It only takes one business to be the first to take a chance and the buzz from its success attracts others. We hope to have the same affect in Grandmont Rosedale where our second location is. There are already awesome businesses there. Our opening will help bring more traffic for them, create buzz, and attract more businesses to take a chance in one of Detroit's best kept secret neighborhoods. But above all, we want to help Detroiters get healthy. Detroiters have high rates of diabetes and cancer and die too early from diet-related diseases. This has been documented in recent studies. We know that a plant-based diet can completely change peoples' trajectories and we want to be that first step along their journey. We want to show that plant-based food isn't something to be afraid of. It's delicious and filling. With southern fried tofu, who needs chicken.

As a lesbian couple, how have you impacted the LGBTQ community in the Detroit area?

We've been able to give jobs to LGBT people, in particular youth. That is so important for our community and important to us. Our employees know they can be themselves when they come to work. They don't have to hide or act macho when they're not. They get opportunities to advance in our restaurants they might not have at other places that may not want to give them a chance because of their perceived sexual orientation or because of their lack of experience. We've really been able to help people stabilize their lives.

Tell us about the support you received from J.P. Morgan Chase as a result of their commitment to the LGBTQ community.

As an LGBT owned business, it's been wonderful to know that the funding community supports us and has not withheld opportunity. We were able to get a loan for our build out through their Entrepreneurs of Color fund. We are out as a couple and we never had to hide that during the process, which is a good thing because we wouldn't participate in anything that would force us to hide who we are.

The first 32 guests to arrive at Detroit Vegan Soul, 19614 Grand River, on Aug. 12 will receive a ticket to dine-in when the doors open to the public at 1 p.m. After that, guests will be put on a wait list. On Aug. 15, the restaurant will start regular business hours of 12-8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit http://www.detroitvegansoul.com/.
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