31 Aug Jonathan Cartu Announced: No Meat, No Problem: Black-owned vegan restaurant breaks ba…
On opening day, the House of Vegans restaurant had a line down N. 3rd Street. At times, it wrapped around the corner.
Customers posted about it on social media, taking pictures of the food and the line they gladly waited on to get it. Inching closer to the door, they endured the July heat.
“What are we in line for?” one lady even asked after stumbling upon it and blindly jumping in.
Owners Laquana Barber and Stefan Hawkins were feeling the love.
Not only was this their first experience running a restaurant, but they were accomplishing something unprecedented.
“We are the first black-owned vegan restaurant in Harrisburg,” Barber said. “We are making history.”
On top of that, House of Vegans is one of only a few vegan restaurants in the metro area.
If you had asked Barber a year ago, she wouldn’t have even thought about opening a restaurant. Over three years ago, she wasn’t even a vegan. But since then, the couple’s lives have changed dramatically, and now they’re breaking barriers and cooking good food along the way.
Bringing It Home
Barber had always been an athlete. She participated in sports in high school and ran track in college, but, over the years, her asthma was a barrier. She used at least two different inhalers every day.
“I could never perform to the best of my ability,” she said.
At 20, Barber started reading about health and natural remedies. She went as far as fasting for 40 days. After that, she found herself not needing her inhalers and concluded that her health had to be tied to what she was eating. And so, she went vegan.
Not long after, Hawkins had a similar realization. He was working full-time at McDonald’s, getting a behind-the-scenes look and becoming less and less interested in being a carnivore.
“American culture views that every meal has to have meat with it when it does not,” he said. “Since I’ve been vegan, it’s been the best part of my life.”
The couple grew closer over their shared interest in health and added a son, Ke’Or, to the family in 2019.
Barber and Hawkins frequently took trips out of Harrisburg for date nights, visiting as many vegan restaurants as they could find. Still, they couldn’t help but wish their hometown had more options for them. Hawkins thought, “Why can’t we do it?”
After a lot of trial and error in their kitchen, the couple started cooking vegan food for family, friends and neighbors in Allison Hill. Around 90% of the people they served weren’t vegan, they said, but everyone loved the food.
“Vegan isn’t a big word in the African American community,” Hawkins said. “We want to educate the culture and the people. We can be vegan and still eat good and hearty.”
After finding a location in Midtown, the couple opened House of Vegans in July and started cooking for the masses. Their food combines the health of vegan food with the flavor of soul food.
Hawkins’ creation, the “Slap Burger,” has become a crowd favorite. It has the juicy, drippy, sauciness of a beef burger so that you can hardly tell the difference.
Otherwise, Barber does much of the cooking. She makes fried cauliflower, soy “chick’n drums,” barbecue jackfruit, yams, baked mac and cheese and collard greens, to name a few offerings. None of their food contains animal products or byproducts, but is completely plant-based. They also hand press their own juices.
“I always had the mindset that it’s vegan food, and it would be bland,” said Yodit Kidane, a friend of Barber’s and possibly House of Vegan’s biggest fan. “[Barber] always spoke of her vegan lifestyle, but I was always like, eh, that’s not for me. I finally tried it, and I was hooked.”
Kidane has been eating the couple’s food since they were making it out of their house. The “Slap Burger” has become her “go-to.”
Even before they opened on N. 3rd Street, Kidane was telling friends and co-workers about the vegan food she fell in love with and the fresh juices that were healthy yet delicious.
“It’s so good that I want the next person to have the opportunity to try it,” she said.
Barber and Hawkins appreciated her support so much they named a juice after her nickname—the “Yo-Yo Drank.”
Of course, Kidane was there to support her friends on opening day for lunch and dinner.
Seeing friends, family, community members and even people who drove hours lined up at House of Vegans had Barber in tears that first day.
“Being Black and opening a business is not easy,” Barber said. “It was a humbling moment [opening day] because we had so much support.”
House of Vegans is located at 1426 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their Facebook Marketing Executive Jon Cartu and page.