Harlem’s first full-service, vegan soul food restaurant is about to work its magic with yams that taste like crawfish, lotus roots that pass for barbecued riblets and a medley of soy and seitan with the zest of smothered Southern chicken.
In an area long plagued by frightening rates of obesity and diabetes, Seasoned Vegan will offer meatless and nondairy feasts with no gluten or animal fat — and it will apply for kosher certification to dramatically broaden its appeal.
“One of our goals quite simply is to increase longevity and improve the health of the neighborhood we love,” says Brenda Beener, 57, the chef, founder and co-owner.
“And we will satisfy even the most skeptical of carnivores at the same time,” vows her partner and son Aaron, 27.
The budding mother-and-son entrepreneurs plan to open in August on a booming stretch of Frederick Douglass Blvd. near 116th St. that has emerged in recent years as Harlem’s Restaurant Row.
Employing 15 people, Seasoned Vegan will occupy 1,800 square-feet on two levels with an upscale, 30-seat restaurant above a ground-floor lounge offering smoothies and “vegan-style alcohol.”
Soulful entrees created with “mock” meat and fish — and a savory mac and cheese sampled by the Daily News that doesn’t really use any cheese — will be priced between $13 and $18.
“Our neighborhood has sometimes been called a food desert because we just don’t have enough healthy choices,” said Thomas Lunke, director of planning at the Harlem Community Development Corp.
“Brenda is creating a home-grown business using fat-free ingredients that will help to change all that.”
But there’s still one obstacle: money.
The Beeners expect to spend $250,000 to acquire and outfit the restaurant space and cover rent and operating expenses for a year. They’re seeking a bank loan that would require a 20% downpayment, or $50,000.
To help them reach that sum, they’ve launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com, which provides funding for creative projects online by asking friends, vegans and supporters to kick in another $20,000.
With 22 days left in the 30-day campaign, they’ve lined up 48 backers who’ve pledged $2,397 so far.
Would-be contributors can view the Beeners’ pitch at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1518430027/seasoned-vegan-a-full-service-vegan-restaurant-in