If you’ve been to the 400 W. Rich Farmers Market you’ve probably noticed the lines at Willowbeez Soulveg. Carnell Willoughby cooks up the vegetarian and vegan soul food that has become a hit with the market crowd.
When it’s affordable and available Willoughby uses local produce to create his hearty vegetarian dishes. Diners find delectables like curry cabbage and cornbread, soul power rolls with quinoa, lentils, onions, pepper and spices, left eye soul chili and Jamaican brown stew made with baby portobellos or tempeh along with tomatoes and a host of spices. Expanding on his creations, Willoughby is also looking to add some seasonal items to his menu of soul food favorites.
Willowbeez Soulveg started at 400 W. Rich about a year ago with a borrowed table, a borrowed crock-pot and some makeshift signage.
“The rest is Willowbeez Soulveg history!” Willoughby says.
He has turned the vegetarian soul food into a vending and catering operation. In addition to W. Rich, Willowbeez Soulveg will frequent The Pearl Market downtown and explore other markets and festivals across the city.
While normally on the go, Willoughby is finding other ways to bring soul food to the community. He’s done three kitchen takeovers, setting up shop in spots across town for the day. The first takeover at Uppercup Coffee led to Uppercup’s best grossing day to date. Willoughby is planning another takeover for April. To teach others his soul-food secrets, the chef has also done cooking demonstrations through Local Matters at the Near East Cooperative Market.
Less than stellar food options for vegans and vegetarians led Willoughby and his brother to the idea of vegetarian soul food. Willoughby has been a vegetarian for several years, and his brother, a vegan. In the 80s and 90s, Willoughby says eating out was a task and convenience food options were very limited for their dietary habits, consisting of mostly soy-based products.
“The way items were made, a lot of the nutritional value was stripped out of it,” he says, also noting the high sodium level in many processed foods. What was marketed and thought of as healthy food really wasn’t.
Willoughby decide to make his own vegetarian dishes. And to make them organic and as healthy as possible. He started cooking veggie-based dishes for family gatherings to rave reviews. Although they tried, nobody could make the dishes quite like Willoughby. That’s when he realized he had a marketable product on his hands.
Up next, Willoughby hopes to grow the operation to include a food truck, with a crowdfunding campaign starting in early April to raise funds.
For more information, visit facebook.com/WillowbeezSoulveg.