Chef Holando Shaw and several elected officials celebrated the opening of Real Veggie Cafe with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Jamaica on Sunday, May 2.
When the original soul food restaurant closed, and Shaw took the opportunity, partnered with the original owner and turned the eatery at 106-13 Guy R. Brewer Blvd. into a vegan restaurant.
On the menu is mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, plantains, candied yams and other items. Fried cauliflower and mushrooms replace traditional fried chicken. All menu items are seasoned with a Caribbean twist, served soul food style.
The Jamaican-born Shaw shared he started experimenting with plant-based dishes using traditional Jamaican sauces like curry and jerk sauces, which are vegan-based, creating healthier food options.
“We wanted to tackle the whole concept of food insecurity and bring healthier options to the neighborhood,” said the chef, who donated sustainable and healthy food options for seniors, first responders and families in need during the pandemic.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said the new, post-COVID normal should also include healthier restaurant options and adopting a healthier lifestyle.
“When you look at who died during this pandemic, it’s very clear that a lot of folks we lost, we lost due to access to health care, but also underlying conditions that many of our community residents have faced going through disparities in many different areas across the borough,” Richards said.
He was excited to see that a vegan restaurant opened its doors in south Queens, which he called a blessing.
“These are the communities where we need to see health care prioritized. But also the mindset of us taking some personal responsibility and putting the onus on us as well to sort of adapt to a new healthier eating lifestyle,” the borough president said.
Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, whose district borders the vegan cafe, said it was amazing to see what can be done and called the eatery a welcome addition to Jamaica.
“To have establishments like chef Holando, who is bringing Real Veggie Cafe right here to south Jamaica, it’s going to be so impactful for so many people. We’re looking at the students, the residents that are going to be able to partake in their neighborhood. Healthy eating, what the borough president just said, it’s so good. We need more establishments like this,” the councilwoman said.
Looking forward to the fusion of Jamaican flavors and plant-based soul food, Adams joked, “My husband’s a vegan. Maybe I’ll be converted, too — who knows?”