In a small restaurant on Bennington Avenue, Cornelius Roy planned on revolutionizing Baton Rouge food culture. Now, around two months after Vegan Friendly Foods’ opening, the business is still going strong.
Roy, one of the owners of Vegan Friendly Foods, wants to make vegan food popular for everyone and spread awareness of healthier foods. As an on-and-off vegan for eight years, he understands how hard it is to find good vegan options. His solution was to make soul food vegan, opening a restaurant without a single animal-based ingredient.
“It’s about spreading and educating. This is kind of like activism in a sense. It’s weird trying to help people with their diet,” Roy said. “This is not the healthiest vegan thing to eat, but it’s a good starting point to help you transition.”
Besides their signature dishes, like jambalaya and mushroom steak, they also plan on testing out new dishes, like vegan ice cream. Their desserts, especially the vegan King Cake, have been big hits. Other dishes took a lot of effort, like the Backslider Burger, which was the restaurant’s effort to make a good vegan burger.
“So we’re vegan right? We need to have a burger that we can eat that’s comparable to another burger that someone would eat that has bacon and cheese and all that stuff on that,” Roy said. “So that’s why we did like a coconut bacon, the cheese, the avocado.”
Another challenge was making good vegan mac and cheese, which took them some trial and error, especially in the taste and consistency.
“That is something in the vegan community that is the definer,” Roy said. “If you have the mac and cheese, we love you. And that is something, ironically, we’ve been struggling with nailing that down.”
They eventually succeeded in making good mac and cheese by using nut-based cheese. After having a customer taste it without any complaints, Roy thinks they finally hit on the right recipe.
Besides experimenting with new dishes, Roy also wants to implement a monthly newsletter with advice on how to eat healthily as a vegan along with other lifestyle advice. His goal is to make the restaurant into a community place, somewhere where everyone can express their culture.
“The store is a hub, it’s a testing ground. It’s more than a restaurant,” Roy said. “I have other concepts I want to do and I want to see how they work first here in the restaurant before I break off and do other stuff.”
Right now, Vegan Friendly Foods gets around 70-100 customers a day, frequented by both college students and members of the Baton Rouge community. They’re just starting to expand, getting their first catering event for February.
One of the best experiences Roy’s had since Vegan Friendly Foods opened is the support and the appreciation from the Baton Rouge community. Roy said the restaurant has gotten a lot of positive feedback so far.
“Those things really touch me because they’re appreciative of the food, they say ‘thank you for being here,’ like ‘Baton Rouge needed this,’” Roy said. “Those types of interactions with the community have been very touching.”