by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Having been one of the first Black owned vegan restaurants in the Bay, many people tasted seasoned vegan food for the first time, once it was served out of Souley Vegan’s kitchen. In many people’s eyes, Souley Vegan owner Tamearra Dyson’s recipes were the first to make “a vegan lifestyle” possible to imagine for Black people’s taste buds. Now a year and a half after the scamdemic ended, Souley Vegan, like so many other businesses, are suffering financially from the lack of foot traffic that was created when the country was put on lockdown, and people got accustomed to conveniently buying online instead of walking, exploring, and shopping.
Currently, there is a fundraising campaign to aid and assist Souley Vegan at this trying economic time. If you can help, please do. Oakland’s healthy food and Black community need to come together to save such a historic institution that played a vital part in helping a community to learn to be conscious of what we consume, and showing us that vegan food doesn’t have to be bland. Check out the renaissance chef, business tycoon and owner of the Souley Vegan franchise Tamearra Dyson in her own words.
JR Valrey: When and how did you conceive of Souley Vegan?
Tamearra Dyson: Souley Vegan was conceived over four years before birth. I can’t remember the exact date, however I spoke about it for years before launching.
What was the original vision? The vision was to create a vegan paradise for patrons. Serving every bit of what is offered in the Louisiana culture in addition to cakes, pies, juices etc. All made from starch. That guests would love to be there so much that they would stay for a while, talk to people whether they knew them or not and feel good because of the food and loving atmosphere.
JR Valrey: Where did the name come from?
Tamearra Dyson: I’m a spiritual person, so the name reflects the spirit that went into the creation and execution. So, I was thinking about words around soul and came up with Souley Vegan. It also implies that the food is only vegan.
JR Valrey: When and what made you choose the first location to make your vision a reality?
Tamearra Dyson: That location spoke to me. When I walked in. I felt that no matter what that place was where we would grow.
I set out to find a location for the vision of Souley vegan with no money in my pockets. I saw that location had a “for rent” sign on it. I thought they would surely be asking for more than I could afford long term. I passed it maybe three times before I called them to do a walk through.
JR Valrey: How did you come up with your menu?
Tamearra Dyson: The menu is inspired by my grandfather. He was from Louisiana and was a major influence on me, and I admired him a lot growing up. He passed on when I was very young, but you would have thought we spent a lifetime together.
JR Valrey: Where did you get all of those delicious vegan recipes?
Tamearra Dyson: I watched my mother cook growing up, so honestly my cooking style, I got from her. I began to develop my own recipes when I became vegan and elevated them along the way.
JR Valrey: How were you able to be the sole owner of the Souley Vegan franchise, operate your Oakland location, but also open in San Francisco, Las Vegas and other places?
Tamearra Dyson: Determination. I was concerned about the future of the restaurant industry, my team and the memories of a struggling household I had to endure growing up came flooding back to me. I am extremely self sufficient so I thought that I could do it, which I did but the overhead was too heavy to carry alone. We prepare everything from scratch, all the plant-based products we serve are handcrafted and therefore require much time. I learned a lot about the duplication process so now when I set out, I will be more strategic.
JR Valrey: How did the covid pandemic lockdowns affect Souley Vegan as a business?
Tamearra Dyson: It was scary at first. Money stopped for a time then when it started to come back, I had accumulated debt from the other endeavors and it wasn’t enough.
JR Valrey: How has Souley Vegan been dealing with the economic downturn created-crime wave cloaking the Bay Area currently?
Tamearra Dyson: Wow. I’m from Oakland and have never experienced it like this. A long time guest came in and said he had to go from coming four times a week to one because he Ubers now a long distance from fear of being hijacked or his car and valuables stolen.
Souley Vegan brings people from all over the world, and we were hosting karaoke one night and had a live crowd. This group from Britain had a blast! Signing, eating and drinking, only to walk to their car and find all the windows shattered, suitcases gone and passports stolen. Despite the historic reputation of Oakland, we never in the 12 years before covid, had to deal with that kind of thing. I remember it was May 2020 that I felt people started losing their minds.
JR Valrey: You are a major trendsetter having been the first Black vegan restaurant in the Bay, how do you see your purpose?
Tamearra Dyson: My purpose is to teach and inspire. That’s why I’m here. Souley Vegan is an extension of me but it’s not the end chapter. I know why I am supposed to be successful, it is more for other people, and it’s lastly for me.
It’s to teach the youth and even adults that they do not have to be a victim of their environment. Now, trust me when I say I will enjoy my life but that’s a good lesson for people to learn as well. People talk about what you eat but you must also be conscious of your thoughts and vibration.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about Beating Iron Chef Bobby Flay? What was that like?
Tamearra Dyson: That was an amazing experience. I was first intimidated and had thoughts of not going but I knew those thoughts were from fear, which meant I had to go. Before I left home to fly to compete, I made a pact with God that if I go, I’m going there to win and I did.
Bobby Flay is an iron chef and at the top of his culinary game. So to have beaten him and the fact that I am the first vegan chef in history to beat him is an honor.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about Souley Vegan’s current fundraising campaign? What are some key points that potential investors need to know?
Tamearra Dyson: We are fundraising to overcome the financial challenges that developed over the last three years. We have expansion opportunities that we must focus on, and the debt has made it a bit difficult.
JR Valrey: Where is Souley Vegan? And what’s the indie gogo address?
JR Valrey: How can people find you online?
Tamearra Dyson: https://www.souleyvegan.com/
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.