Nashville’s first vegan soul food cafe arrives in Midtown
In the heart of Nashville’s Midtown neighborhood, a line wraps around The Southern V, with customers waiting to place orders for comfort food like hot chicken, ribs and ‘chops and gravy.
Inside, co-owners Tiffany Hancock and Clifton Hancock serve Southern staples with a twist: all the food is meat and dairy-free.
Tiffany, 32, prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as dessert, during the week with seitan and organic soy as a substitute to meat and dairy products.
The Hancocks renovated the small 600-square-foot home this summer into a permanent location for the all-vegan business, which debuted last September at local farmers markets. The couple held a soft opening on Oct. 1 that garnered large crowds in preparation for the grand opening Oct. 22.
“We didn’t expect the crowd that came out for the soft opening,” Clifton says. “We were using it as an easy day to assess logistics and operations to give us an idea of what may be needed once we officially open.”
According to Clifton, 33, a Nashville native who works full time as a speech therapist, the couple began transitioning into a healthier lifestyle prior to the birth of their first child, Eden, in 2011. Tiffany, who was on a strict raw vegan diet when their second daughter, Norah, was born in 2014, says they noticed a dairy intolerance shortly after both daughters were born and decided to stick with a diet that worked for the entire family.
Clifton adds the biggest difficulty the family faced with veganism was the limited dietary options, particularly desserts and comfort food. At the time the family switched diets, he says there weren’t many local treats like vegan yeast donuts, a family favorite.
Tiffany, a self-taught cook, decided to craft her own recipe for the family to enjoy.
“We started with donuts and did a lot of trials to ensure that they were light, fluffy and had no taste difference,” he says. “The original intent was to satisfy our palates, but our friends informed us that they were the best they ever had and that they couldn’t tell if they were vegan.”
Along with desserts came savory soul food dishes, the same kind of food Clifton says he and Tiffany enjoyed while growing up. While most local meat-and-three restaurants season greens with pork or add various stocks to side for extra flavor, Tiffany says it all comes down to the seasoning at The Southern V.
“If you know your seasonings and spices and have a diverse palate, there are other ways to emulate that taste using organic or plant-based products,” Tiffany says. “It’s not that difficult … just get to know your pantry.”
Dishes on the rotating menu include vegan ‘chops and gravy made with seitan, barbecue jackfruit sliders, loaded nachos with dairy-free cheese and sour cream, mashed potatoes, macaroni and “cheeze,” green beans and cornbread. The Southern V also features hearty breakfast options like “hot or not chick’n biscuits,” French toast, waffles and pancakes and various pies, cakes, cookies and ice cream for dessert.
According to research conducted by Priceonomics, Nashville ranks №36 in U.S. metro areas offering vegan-friendly options, with 25 restaurants, including The Wild Cow, Sunflower Cafe and Graze, a plant-based bistro and bar. Memphis,Tennessee, clocks in under Nashville with 24 options, according to the research.
Although the Hancocks follow a strict vegan diet, they don’t expect all customers to be familiar with the lifestyle. Instead of focusing on animal rights reasons or health benefits that go along with veganism, Clifton says he wants customers to focus on the taste.
“We hope everyone steps outside of their comfort zone and try something that is better for your health, the environment and tastes amazing,” Clifton says. “We designed our menu and crafted our foods to appeal to all … there’s nothing like seeing vegans and non-vegans all sitting together and eating the same thing.”
He adds, “Two things that I have observed over the years is that food and sports can bring people from all walks of life together. If we can make that happen, then it’s worth every moment.”
The Southern V is open for breakfast and lunch/dinner on Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 3–8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m. Rotating menus can be found on thesouthernv.com or the restaurant’s Facebook page.