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.
Succesful co-owners Kirsten Ussery-Boyd, general manager and Erika Boyd, executive chef, have established one of the most beloved vegan restaurants in Detroit and metro Detroit areas. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) 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.
The Detroit Vegan Soul Story
Kirsten 38, a North Carolina native and Erika 43, a northwest Detroit native 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.
“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,” Kirsten said. “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 and 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.” When the idea for Detroit Vegan Soul culminated, they started out with meal delivery, catering and pop ups all while they were working other jobs. While not easy or simplistic, with a lot of support and followers, a year later they were able to open their first restaurant.
Kirsten and Erika have been able 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,” Kirsten said. The couple, who tied the knot in 2013, opened a second location in August in the Grandmont/Rosedale Park area.
Detroit Vegan Soul partners 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. Kirsten and Erika like to think that they’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 restaurant is located in Historic West Village neighborhood, was empty. After we opened, it was a domino effect,” Kirsten said.
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,” Kirsten said. “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.”
The couple agrees the community has been so welcoming and they are excited to be there.
“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,” Kirsten said. “They don’t have to hide or act macho when they’re not. They get opportunities to advance in our restaurants. Other places may not have given 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.”