Soul N’ Vinegar, a neighborhood food shop and eatery, opened on June 30. (Photo by Eileen Mellon)
The menu at Soul N’ Vinegar will change weekly. (Photo by Eileen Mellon)
Red beans, chicken and squash from Soul N’ Vinegar (Photo by Michelle Parrish)
The fridge houses prepackaged to-go items, drinks and produce. (Photo by Eileen Mellon)
Crocheted plaques create a homey vibe inside Soul N’ Vinegar. (Photo by Eileen Mellon)
Soul N’ Vinegar received a SEED Grant (framed on the wall) for $20,000 to start the East End business. (Photo by Eileen Mellon)
Vegan strawberry shortbread at Soul N’ Vinegar (Photo by Michelle Parrish)
A new Church Hill eatery and food shop, Soul N’ Vinegar, opened its doors Saturday, June 30, aimed at offering affordable, approachable and healthy meals to surrounding residents in the East End, an area considered a food desert of the city.
At the corner of R and 29th streets sits a converted 572-square-foot brick studio apartment, formerly Ruth’s Beauty Shop, and inside, owner Michelle Parrish, 34, is running the show, with the help of William Rimmell, formerly of Lemaire and Shagbark.
Parrish, a Massachusetts native, previously of Whisk, Secco, and Blue Talon in Williamsburg, knew she wanted to open a restaurant, but she also knew easing into the process was a wise decision. Her solution: catering.
Parrish launched Soul N’ Vinegar catering, the name an homage to her African-American and Korean ancestry and cooking roots, in January 2018.
“I like the word ‘soul’ because people connect with it and ‘vinegar’ because almost everything I make has vinegar in it,” says Parrish. “When people hear it, there’s a connection.”
Backtrack one year prior, to January 2017, and Parrish had just enrolled at Reynolds Community College on a business track. That same month she stumbled across the property at 2832 R St.
“I came in the space and thought, This is weird, I feel something,” says Parrish.
That feeling pushed her to move forward on her new culinary journey, and everything began to fall into place. She enrolled in a seven-week business course through the Office of Minority Business Development at City Hall and for the final project devised a business plan. After completing the course, Parrish took her plan and applied for a SEED (Supporting East End Entrepreneurship Development) grant in June 2017.
The SEED grant was a program launched in 2011 between the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Bon Secours Health System in an effort to push for economic development in the East End, specifically the 25th Street corridor in Church Hill. Businesses including Sub Rosa Bakery, Metzger Bar & Butchery, Dutch & Co., and the now closed Craft Kolache have all been awarded SEED Grants.
One month after applying for the grant, Parrish was awarded $20,000 to start her business.
“I said, ‘These people are crazy,’ ” she recalls. “There wasn’t even a lease yet, nothing.”
The wheels were turning quickly, and Parrish knew it was go time. Three months later, in October 2017, she signed the lease for her forthcoming food shop.
“If I didn’t live near here, this wouldn’t have happened. I never would have [seen] this building, and we wouldn’t be here,” says Parrish of her good fortune in finding the space and receiving the SEED grant.
While Parrish converted the studio space into a functioning kitchen and eatery, she also ran her catering company, which generated $10,000 through events for Robinson Theater, Blue Sky, United Healthcare and Bon Secours.
“They were all community people who intentionally hired us because they wanted to support us,” says Parrish. “We’ve been really lucky.”
Parrish hopes to spread the wealth, in terms of food choices, to the surrounding community in the East End. In an area where convenience stores are the norm and grocery stores and affordable, healthy options are lacking, Soul N’ Vinegar meets a community need.
“Everybody talks about Richmond and food, but it’s not across the board, people talk about Church Hill and ‘Don’t go to this side or down Nine Mile,’ ” she says.
Parrish recalls a group of young kids stopping in the store last week and asking whether the shop was open, and if the water sitting out was free. “Of course,” she replied. An hour later the same kids returned, dumping a handful of assorted change on the counter, stating that was all they had, a few pennies short of the price of a bag of pita chips they wanted to buy, marked $1.50. When Parrish gave them the snack, they were ecstatic; she says this is exactly why she opened Soul N’ Vinegar.
“If I have these skills and this opportunity, I might as well make something that’s affordable to a lot of people,” says Parrish. “I want black people to come in and say, ‘I feel comfortable, I know what these food things are,’ and for it to be approachable. It feels real and authentic in here.”
The menu at Soul N’ Vinegar changes weekly, but five to six main entrees $10 or under are always available. During my visit the boards listed a falafel bowl; a meal with red beans, chicken and yellow squash; chopped salads; and golden curry, plus a variety of side options: pickled veggies, ham salad, avocado dip, pimento cheese, and cucumber and cabbage slaw.
Parrish says a $5 meal and vegetarian option are staples, and vegan choices will make an appearance.
Inside the eatery, a cozy counter space with six stools faces the street, and accents such as succulents and crocheted plaques decorated with fruits and veggies create a homey feel — one plaque prompts, “Have a Happy Heart.”
A frame placed proudly on the wall contains the certificate announcing Parrish’s SEED Grant, and a large fridge is stocked with prepackaged to-go options: fresh lettuce, peppers, cilantro, avocado, plus almond and coconut milk and other beverages. Parrish also sells russet and sweet potatoes.
“[Soul N’ Vinegar is] a place for people that need a place to eat and they need food. It was intended for the people that live right here,” says Parrish. “Diverse food for diverse people.”
Plans for the future include planting a garden behind the property and making a small outdoor patio. Parrish is currently applying to be able to accept EBT cards at the eatery.
is open daily, except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.