Long time vegan Chef Ayinde Howell recently reached his KickStarter goal to open up a pop up vegan restaurant in NYC. It’s no surprise that Ayinde reached his goal. He is not only a long time vegan; but also an entrepreneur, actor, musician, writer and founder of ieatgrass.com. I recently caught up with Ayinde to find out a bit more about him, his vegan dreams and what his future holds in store.
FriendsEAT: Ayinde, Congratulations on reaching your KickStarter goal. What made you decide to start a pop up as opposed to a more traditional style restaurant?
Chef Ayinde Howell: I have been working in the restaurant biz for over a decade now—working every possible position from dishwasher to owner. I’m kinda in love with the idea of mobility in food. A pop-up is something I have not done yet and works in tandem with what I’m doing with iEatGrass.com, The idea of taking my food to the people rather than waiting for folks to happen into my restaurant is more effective because it becomes an event that involves learning and food.
FE: When did you first hear of KickStarter?
CAH: I heard of Kickstarter from facebook. A couple of my filmmaker friends had projects up and I think the idea of crowd funding is also a good way to gage the net worth of my network.
FE: How easy/complicated was the KickStarter process?
CAH: It’s not hard at all. You know you learn by trial and error –hoping for the best.
FE: Is there a feature that you think KickStarter should add on in the future?
CAH: Pledging via text or SMS like we do with the major humanitarian organizations.
FE: You are a life-long vegan, how do you plan to attract the non-vegetarian/non-vegan audience to come dine at Wild Flower?
CAH: Most of the clientele I served is non-vegan & non-vegetarian. I learned early on that vegans are a core customer, but if a restaurant is to survive what we serve should be addictively good (like my Mac & Yease). From my first café in Seattle, Hillside Quickie’s Vegan Sandwich Shop, to Jivamukti Cafe in NYC where I was Executive chef for two years. I focus on creating really good innovative cuisine that happens to be plant based.
FE: Tell me a bit about the docusodes you have planned.
CAH: In addition to being an executive chef, I am also a blogger with an acting background. It is my goal to film every event I do for the web, these docu-sodes will follow me as we begin the process catch all the drama (because there always is in the food world) and show followers and backers who cannot come and…also it serves as a preview of what we can bring to your town.
FE: What is your one dish that you find surprises people most?
CAH: The Mac & Yease, a twist on the American classic blue box staple. I think it surprises many people how closely it mirrors dairy mac n’ cheese.
FE: I’m so glad you mentioned it because I was seriously curious. I was following your progress; most of your funding came in on the last day. How did you feel on the last day?
CAH: I discovered that I am an adrenaline junkie. I blocked out the whole day to focus on it and it was incredibly nerve racking but great at the same time.
FE: Tell me a bit more about menu development; what type of dishes do you plan to serve and why did you decide on these?
CAH: I want to explore the different aspects of veganism and it’s subcultures. I have worked in the kitchen and eaten as a lifelong vegan. So I know how to translate Soul food, Fast Food, Bistro Style, Raw, Gluten Free etc. Thursday will be an exploration of my roots, southern American soul food inspired fare–BBQ rubbed Seitan “hot-water” cornbread, cherry pie are all possibilities. These and other things my mother, the New York city girl and father, the country Alabama boy used to make for Sunday dinner. The second night will explore where my path is leading me, Raw-Fusion my take on the best elements of raw cuisine fused with clean cooked foods. All gluten free. I am also exploring the street food phenomenon with a 10 course street food tasting menu. My absolute favorite meal to cook and eat is brunch! Saturday I will serve pancakes and international savory accompaniments. Sunday I will bring back my Waffle Brunch Petit Dejeuner w/ favs like the Reese Cup waffle, chocolate orange marble waffle, Mexican hot cocoa waffle, le Classic, cinnamon toast, as well as testing out a few new ideas.
FE: How difficult is sourcing ingredients for the restaurant? Do you have purveyors already scoped out?
CAH: I have some local purveyors. Finding the right ones is always a challenge but that’s all part of the fun!
FE: Do you see yourself expanding on this idea and opening all over the country?
CAH: Yes! With camera crew in tow! Ultimately, I want to bring this experience to as many locations and people as possible.
The whole FriendsEAT crew wishes Ayinde and his crew lots of luck. We’re looking forward to opening night.
Wild Flower will be at 171 East Broadway, New York, NY from June 10-12. Dinner will be Fri-Sun from 7-11. Brunch will be Sat & Sun from 11-5. Late night menu Fri & Sat.
Questions – drop Ayinde a line at ueatgrass @ gmail.com