Natasha Ishak

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It’s been a good year for 23-year-old Francesca Chaney from East New York. Since she opened a permanent location in Bushwick for her former vegan pop-up Sol Sips last year, her business has quickly flourished. The small cafe of vegan plates is now becoming recognized for its clever use of plant-based ingredients and its message of affordable and inclusive veganism. That is, making sure that healthy eating is not exclusive to those who can afford a $10 cup of a Green Goddess smoothie.

“In many Black, Indigenous and Eastern communities it’s a tradition to meditate, grow your own food, create medicinal concoctions and facilitating healing rituals, yet many of the same communities have been ostracized for a very long time,” Chaney, whose mother is from Belize and taught her how to make the best out of locally-grown produce, told Essence in one of her first interviews.

Sol Sips has gained plenty of traction since its opening in 2018 with features in brand publications like Essence and Nylon. More impressively, the young entrepreneur was featured on Grist’s 50 top innovators in sustainability list. She was also named as one of Eater’s 2019 Young Guns, a yearly compilation of the brightest rising culinary stars hand-picked by editors and critics in the industry.

Oyster mushroom fried Chik’n, with kale and sweet potatoes, courtesy of Sol Sips.

The concept of Sol Sips dishes are simple yet inspiring. Instead of your run-of-the-mill greens, patrons will find other attractive plant ingredients, like sunflower seeds, turmeric, ginger, and jackfruit. Meat-eaters or non-vegans (like me) will find comfort in familiar-sounding dishes like their Bacon, Egg, and Cheese, which is made with tempeh bacon and scrambled chickpea eggs, and Jerk Jackfruit Plate, a plate of young jackfruit in sweet and spicy jerk sauce served over farro and chickpeas with steamed cabbage.

Among their most popular dishes are the Chick’n Biscuit Sandwich, a seasonal menu dish of fried oyster mushroom “chick’n” on chia seed turmeric biscuits served with fresh raspberry and rosemary jam, and the Tamarind Jackfruit Panini, made with young jackfruit with in-house tamarind and agave sauce, sauteed bell peppers, onions, and steamed kale.

Growing up with Garifuna roots and a mother who was vegan, Chaney was used to eating healthy yet flavorful foods. She wanted to continue that healthy lifestyle in college, but quickly realized it was easier said than done. It was not easy to find ways of cooking her own plant-based meals.

Courtesy of Jeremy Cohen.

She started looking into different methods to incorporate high-nutrient foods easily into her diet. One way she discovered was through homemade smoothies, where her time working at her cousin’s apothecary came in handy, giving her good judgement on what herbs could elevate flavoring. She also started trying out different vegan-inspired recipes at home and would host friends during the weekend, which eventually led to the inspiration for Sol Sips.

Coming from East New York, feeding healthy and energizing meals to people who come from different walks of life, was an important aspect of Sol Sips’ creation.

“My motivation is really in believing that everyone deserves the opportunity to have a plant-based meal, to be fueled by the energy that’s coming directly from the earth, and to use these resources to take care of our bodies…. and realizing not every neighborhood gets to have access to organic produce or even vegan or vegetarian options,” Chaney explained in a recent interview with Business Insider.

To make sure that her cafe’s offerings were accessible to her own college friends and residents from lower-income communities, Sol Sips started a sliding price brunch menu every Saturday and Tuesday, where customers can get a full meal plus drink between $7 to $15. Customers pay what they feel they can afford. Her strategy seems to be working so far as the cafe manages to attract customers from as far as the Bronx and New Jersey.

Breakfast burrito, courtesy of Jeremy Cohen.

On most days, you’ll find Chaney behind the counter with her staff, cooking up a storm and chatting happily with satisfied customers who are privy to her mission of inclusivity. The community that she is building is evident in the connections among her patrons.

“This is my first time here. I heard good things from a friend of mine from church, who knows Francesca [Chaney],” David, a customer waiting for his order at the cafe, said.

A long line of eager visitors—some first-timers, others repeat customers—wait patiently in the cramped cafe. The growing eatery will soon be able to accommodate its growing fanbase this summer, when Chaney moves her cafe to a bigger space that will still be located in Bushwick. The business is set to become a full-service restaurant with new furnishings and more seats, but the same community-driven ideals.

Cover image courtesy of Aidan Loughran.

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