For Cornelius Roy, owning a vegan restaurant is a form of activism.
Inspired by his own woes of not being able to dine out freely as a vegan, the New Orleans native started Vegan Friendly Foods. The restaurant opened on Nov. 21 at 4608 Bennington Ave. in Baton Rouge.
Vegan Friendly Foods is the second black-owned Baton Rouge business that caters to vegan diets, joining the cooking service Vegan Meets Soul. Vegan Friendly Foods, Vegan Meets Soul, MJ's Cafe and Sukha Cafe are the city's only fully vegan dining options.
Cornelius Roy co-owns the restaurant with his mother, Evangeline, who serves as a head chef; his brother, Jamon, also a head chef; and his son Tahj. Together, the family runs the day-to-day operations of the brick-and-mortar establishment.
“Veganism is a culture. It’s got its own universe," Cornelius Roy said. "When I was choosing this diet for myself, after I had made some social and spiritual changes, and so the body comes next. I want to be able to help people make better choices for their bodies, especially in a state where these types of choices aren't always available.”
Opening the day before Thanksgiving led to a slow start for business, but once patrons began to trickle in, the power of social media propelled the restaurant into selling out of items. Vegan Friendly Foods’ top seller is the Back Slidin’ vegan burger, a plant-based patty with nut cheese, coconut bacon, sautéed onions and avocado on a baked bun served with large fried potato wedges.
The irony of a burger leading sales is not lost on Cornelius Roy.
“When I became a vegan eight years ago, salad and fries were my only dining out options,” he said. “One time, I went to a restaurant and ordered a vegan burger and was asked if I wanted cheese, and I thought, ‘I know you don’t have vegan cheese; you don’t have vegan cheese!’ ”
Before deciding to open his own vegan restaurant, Cornelius Roy relied heavily on his mother and sister to prepare him flavorful vegan meals.
Another favorite has been the soul food platter, a plate piled high with red beans, jambalaya, macaroni and cheese and dirty rice, using riced cauliflower and gluten-free noodles. The dish is well-seasoned with herbs and spices, and the tastes are comparable to the traditional form of any of the items.
Cornelius Roy said being able to give others tasty vegan options is empowering. Soon, he said, he hopes to be able to decorate with colorful posters that will educate patrons on what vitamins and health benefits certain vegan foods provide. He also wants to cater to patrons however they see fit.
“That menu is fluid. It doesn’t have to stay like that; it could be whatever,” he said. “We are going to be moving with the community. However the community wants it, that’s how we’re going to do it.”
The cheese, pasta and flour are gluten free, and Cornelius Roy said he pays close attention to accommodating popular allergies, including nuts. But more than health benefits, it’s important to him that the food tastes good.
“When we figured out our niche, I found a seasoning that just makes everything taste good," he said. "People have a preconceived notion that vegan food is bland or nasty, but it’s not like that.”
The menu was primarily created by his mother, a veteran chef whose cooking is inspired by family recipes.
“These are my parents’ recipes,” Evangeline Roy said. “I just veganized them.”
Cornelius Roy said he has so far seen a diverse crowd, but patronage has been about 75 percent African-American.
“I get it that people are shocked that this vegan spot is black-owned, but the support from the black community has been crazy good. I want everyone to know that this restaurant is for the community,” he said.
Vegan Friendly Foods' grand opening, held on Dec. 1, featured cupcakes by pastry chef Rahz, who will join the staff at Vegan Friendly Foods in mid-December. A coconut milk-based ice cream also will be added to the menu soon.
Vegan Friendly Foods
4608 Bennington Ave.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday
(225) 246-8391; veganffoods.com