Photo: Jeff Mays/DNAinfo
Picture it: Your local Black-owned restaurant. When you walk in the door you’re greeted like family and able to order southern comfort staples including macaroni and cheese, fresh collard greens, and black-eyed peas. Now as notable Motown songs blare through speakers in opposing corners of the dining room, imagine that the entire menu is solely composed of plant-based items. Welcome to Harlem’s Seasoned Vegan restaurant owned by vegan mother-son duo, Brenda and Aaron Beener.
As a stay-at-home mom back in the 1990s, Brenda Beener spent countless hours in the kitchen preparing delicious meals for her family and anyone who visited, for that matter. For this reason, their house quickly became one of the most popular in the neighborhood and Louisiana native, Brenda, never disappointed her New York neighbors preparing southern favorites including: gumbo, stewed chicken, fresh peas and greens, and even chitterlings. That was until her husband completed a 21-day fast and decided he wanted to remove all animal products from his diet. Thus began Brenda’s, or Chef B. as she became affectionately called, journey into veganism and "veganizing" some of the southern and creole favorites that her family had grown to love over the years. She welcomed the chance to continue to cook delicious yet more nutritious foods for her active family.
Photo: Jeff Mays/DNAinfo
Chef B., alongside her son Aaron, officially opened Seasoned Vegan in 2014 as the first full-service vegan restaurant in Harlem, New York. Aaron coined the restaurant’s tagline: “The food you love, veganized” to describe the unique spin that his mom had put on southern favorites in order to create a completely plant-based diet. She credits the success of her vegan creations to her love for cooking that translates into the energy and taste of her food and also seasoning her dishes well.
Chef B. shared in an interview with Vice, “My mother told me one time, 'If you don’t want to cook, don’t cook.' And I was like why? She said, 'Your food is not going to taste good. You have to want to cook when you get to the stove.'"
As in many Black homes, “food is love” and the philosophy of Seasoned Vegan is no different. Part of Chef B. and Aaron’s mission with opening the restaurant was to bring a different eating experience into Harlem. They wanted to change people’s definitions of health and how the decisions on what we choose to put into our bodies affects how we feel and our overall life experiences. They wanted to serve as examples of great energy and awareness and create a space where all aspects of Black culture could be elevated and enjoyed.
"I feel like “Food is love” is the founding principle of Seasoned Vegan, because that’s just what it is—it was, like, supporting our dad in being healthy right from the beginning and then spreading that healthy idea to [my mom] and then to me and my sister, and then being an example for our community with the people," Aaron explained.
Be sure to visit Seasoned Vegan the next time you’re in Harlem and in the mood for some veganized love on your plate.