Souley Vegan, located at Broadway and 3rd Street in downtown Oakland, conjures up a sense of Southern comfort with murals of jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Big Mama Thornton covering the walls. The air is scented by the steaming gravy wafting off the top of one patron’s mashed potatoes. Blues tunes carry over the entire seating area and bar, as does the sizzling of something frying in a batter: tofu.
All the items prepared at Souley Vegan are just that: solely vegan. That means they contain no animal products such as milk or eggs.
Owner Tamearra Dyson, an Oakland native and vegan since the age of 16, grew up on her mother’s soul food but wanted to adapt it to vegan recipes that she felt were healthier. Dyson remembers the exact moment she became a vegan: “I was eating a piece of chicken and all of the sudden I just had this epiphany – I’m eating meat off of a bone. It really thoroughly disgusted me all of a sudden, and I did not eat meat after that.”
Dyson’s restaurant offers a full menu from which customers can pick and choose items for their combination plates—from BBQ tofu to potato salad, collard greens, tofu-based tartar sauce, or cheese-less cheesecake. Patrons can try Southern classics that Dyson has reinvented, like a mac and cheese made from nutritional yeast-based cheese, yams baked with agave and organic raw sugar, or squares of cornbread, which crumble under their own weight as eager eaters use them to mop up the last of their BBQ sauce.