NuVegan Café’s CEO and founder, Vernon Woodland, shows no signs of slowing down!
With new vegan restaurants popping up left and right, we’d like to take a second to honor one of the OGs—NuVegan Café. Keep reading to learn how this Black-owned vegan restaurant has expanded to six locations in less than 10 years.
NuVegan Café Founder and CEO Vernon Woodland
Since childhood, NuVegan Café’s founder and CEO Vernon Woodland passionately pursued cooking. He attended Margaret Murray Washington Vocational High School in Washington, D.C. where he took courses in culinary arts and entrepreneurship. By his junior year, Woodland had already started his first venture, a dessert company called Sweet Treats. After graduating, Woodland participated in a cooking competition that won him a scholarship to the New England Culinary Institute.
Woodland was first introduced to veganism by his now ex-wife who cooked at a vegan restaurant in D.C. Woodland worked with the restaurant owner as a consultant, and eventually bought the spot in 2008 during the height of the recession.
Under Woodland’s ownership, the restaurant went through several iterations—first Everlasting Life Cafe and then Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. During this time, Woodland experimented with all sorts of vegan dishes, influenced by Southern, Italian, Chinese, and other global cuisines. But it wasn’t long until Woodland set goals to franchise the restaurant, which inspired the name change to NuVegan Café.
The Menu at NuVegan Café
The menu at NuVegan Café showcases vegan renditions of food from Woodland’s childhood, as well as his restaurant and culinary school experience. These include Salisbury steaks, country fried steaks, crab cakes, and pot pies, to name a few. Customers have been able to choose from an amalgamation of globally inspired dishes. But with opening additional locations, Woodland knew he had to trim down the menu.
Woodland told VegOut, “We had so many menu items—we veganized everything. It got to a point where we had to scale it down. Customers started to put us in a box, which I didn’t like in the beginning. They used to come to us and say, ‘Oh, y’all are a Soul Food restaurant.’ I was like, ‘No, we do more than Soul Food! We do Italian, Chinese, Thai, etc.’ In the beginning, I kind of resisted it because I didn’t want to be known as a Soul Food vegan spot. But then we just took it on, and that was our little market that we could target within the vegan sector.”
Vegan Food in Colleges and Food Halls Across the East Coast
So, how did NuVegan Café get its vegan food in colleges and food halls across the East Coast? From its flagship location in D.C., NuVegan Café launched a food truck in 2013. The truck began as a marketing tactic to bring awareness to the brick-and-mortar. But with their growing fanbase, it was only a matter of time for NuVegan Café to expand.
In 2015, NuVegan Café’s second brick-and-mortar opened in College Park, Maryland near the University of Maryland. Three years later, a third location debuted in Richmond, Virginia. And not even a year later, in 2019, the fourth location opened inside Howard University’s food hall. All four locations survived the pandemic, and in 2021, a NuVegan Café franchise opened in Baltimore near Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, NuVegan Café debuted at Epic Food Hall in Woodridge, Virginia last year.
Vegan Ice Cream Shop Sweet Vegan Eats
Beyond the savory food, Woodland launched a vegan ice cream shop, Sweet Vegan Eats. The dessert shop offers oat milk ice cream, shakes, sundaes, cookies, and more at its locations in Epic Food Hall and Howard University. Woodland expressed plans to bring Sweet Vegan Eats to all NuVegan Café locations and beyond in the future.
Challenges Faced by Black Business Owners
As you can tell, Woodland nails the formula to keep customers coming back and to expand business across the country. But his journey hasn’t always been easy. As a Black business owner, Woodland faces challenges that non-POC entrepreneurs might not. “There’s not a lot of networks for Black people to be a part of where [companies or individuals] genuinely want to help you. I’ve tried to reach out to get mentorship and help from different people and got overlooked. And as far as different opportunities, I’ve also been overlooked. Everything I’ve got is a blessing from God—and has been on my own,” expressed Woodland.
To aspiring entrepreneurs, Woodland advises, “Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if you want to do it, you’ve got to put in the time and effort. It’s not an overnight thing. But the journey is beautiful. It comes with ups and downs. Whatever field you’re going into, be a student of it. Learn as much as you can.”
For more information on NuVegan Café, visit ILoveNuVegan.com.