Nourish’s Julia Simon Shares What’s Next for Charlotte’s Vegan Community
Including Plant Plant, the city's first vegan-only commissary space
WE’VE BEEN HEARING about the rise of plant-based foods a lot this year. The Panthers’ Cam Newton is now vegan, and we saw a massive demand for the “impossible burger” at local restaurants like Duckworth’s, Trade and Lore, and Legion Brewing SouthPark.
COURTESY Poprock Photography
Last month’s VegFest saw more than 5,000 people with twice as many food vendors as in 2018 according to organizer Julia Simon. “The vegan community is expanding, and that’s just one piece of evidence,” she says. Next year, the team hopes to add another 1,000 attendees and relocate the annual vegan-only festival to a larger space. “We want to make it a little more like a party.”
And Simon has a lot to celebrate. In the seven years since launching her vegan and gluten-free meal delivery service, she’s grown to serving upwards of 3,000 meals—like butternut mac and cheese and oyster mushroom chowder—per month. Now, she’s ready to expand again.
The 38-year-old considered opening a café, but she and other local plant-based leaders have other plans: Simon, Scott Harris of Viva Raw, and Julio Montero and Noushin Radnia of OMG Alchemy are in the beginning stages of launching the city’s first vegan-only commissary space called Plant Plant. Beyond these three founders and anchor tenants, they will welcome other local vegan businesses and serve as an incubator for vegan culinary culture. Plant Plant is still looking for a location; once they secure that, more information will be available. In the meantime, juice from Viva Raw, lionsmane ginger tonic from OMG Alchemy, and Simon’s dishes are available in 7th Street Public Market at Harris’ stall (among other locations around the city).
Simon wasn’t always passionate about food. “My mother was a very utilitarian cook,” she says, “and we didn’t have a lot money so that translated into very microwave-heavy meals. It got to the point where I didn’t want to eat anything.” It was in New York City—where she studied fine arts at The Cooper Union and took culinary classes at The Natural Gourmet Institute—when Simon developed a love of cooking and a love of sharing what she’s prepared.
The 38-year-old has been a vegetarian since the age 13—and a vegan since 30—after volunteering with the anarchist group Food Not Bombs, which believes that food is a human right.
That concept has stuck with Simon with VegFest, and the team’s commitment to keeping the event free to enter. Nourish meals are more costly—from $12.75 for an a la carte lunch, to $53.55 for five lunches, to $280 for “the family plan” of four dinners for four plus breakfasts, salads, and snacks—but that’s because of the ingredients she carefully chooses. Her menus are sourced almost entirely from local farms and distributors including Boy and Girl Farms and Freshlist, among others. Simon has also consulted with local restaurants as part of the Veg Out program, which creates vegan dishes that are chef-driven and creative, not just the impossible burger or a salad. At 300 East, for example, the dessert menu in September included a vegan ice cream sandwich. (They still have some left if you ask!)
You can also try Simon’s food now at various farm-to-table events. She has two this weekend alone: This Saturday, attend Avant Garden and enjoy a five course vegan and gluten-free dinner on the farm of Zane Acres at Bell’s Best Berries in Monroe. Tickets for this annual event are $90. The next day, Simon is cooking at the sold-out Farm to Fork event held at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens and organized by the Piedmont Culinary Guild.