On June 30th, Soul n’ Vinegar, a self-described “neighborhood food shop” providing healthy and affordable options, opened its doors to the public in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, reports Richmond Magazine.
Owner Michelle Parrish started Soul n’ Vinegar in mid-2017 after being awarded a $20,000 grant from the Virginia office of LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). The grant program was created “to push for economic development in the East End, specifically the 25th Street corridor in Church Hill.” Launched in 2011, the grant program is a partnership with Bon Secours Richmond Health System.
The East End of Richmond is a designated ‘food desert,’ one of more than 200 areas battling fresh food scarcity in Virginia. Some 40 percent of Richmond’s population lives in a food desert, with convenient access only to corner stores that typically don’t sell fresh fruits and vegetables or other unprocessed foods, or low-fat milk. Studies have found higher rates of obesity and other health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults living in food deserts.
Across the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts, including 6.5 million children. The department considers a neighborhood a food desert if at least a fifth of the residents live in poverty and a third live more than a mile from a supermarket in urban areas, or more than 10 miles in rural areas, where residents are more likely to have cars. Food deserts overwhelmingly affect low-income communities and communities of color. In designated food deserts, the median household income is at or below 80 percent of surrounding median incomes.
In October 2017, according to Richmond Magazine, Parrish signed a lease for a 572 square-foot brick studio apartment that would soon be converted into her first eatery. While the studio was under renovation, she launched a version of Soul n’ Vinegar in January 2018 and ran it as a successful local catering company that she continues today. Behind the scenes, Williams Rimmel — a friend and former coworker of Parrish — helps in the kitchen.
“If I have these skills and this opportunity, I might as well make something that’s affordable to a lot of people,” Parrish told Richmond Magazine. “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.”
Salt n’ Vinegar’s menu changes weekly, with five to six entrees under $10, a $5 meal including a vegetarian option, and includes items such as salads, wraps, and bowls. Additionally, Parrish sells fresh pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, non-dairy milk and potatoes. She also has an application awaiting approval so she can accept EBT cards (for SNAP, previously known as food stamps) as payment for some items.
“[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,” said Parrish. “Diverse food for diverse people.”
Brianna is an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2018. She's a rising senior at Penn State University, majoring in media studies. She intends to graduate in May 2019.