It’s easy to overlook Jessica Mack’s restaurant tucked away inside the Macon State Farmers Market.
But once people find Southern Vegan Soul Cafe and place an order, Mack said they often become hooked on her cuisine.
“It has been a beautiful response because when people realize that this tastes amazing .... you have a customer for life,” she said.
Mack said her interest in food began when she decided to go on a journey toward a healthier lifestyle. She never cooked and did not eat healthy.
She weighed close to 400 pounds about 8 years ago. That’s when Mack decided to start cooking everything from scratch and develop an exercise regimen.
“From there, I just started trying out recipes,” she said. “That was just a little hurdle that I had to come across.”
Mack, who has lost about 150 pounds so far, eventually began sharing her vegan food at family functions and decided to open up a small business that served vegan baked goods at pop-up markets.
Customers would soon start asking Mack for more than desserts. They wanted vegan meals, too.
She was apprehensive to share her vegan recipes with the community at first, but Mack would eventually open a food truck called Gourmet Goody Box, and it was instant success.
“I was only cooking for my family,” she said. “From there, we had to have a commercial kitchen. So that is where the Southern Vegan Soul Cafe was created.”
The restaurant has been open for about 2 years and Mack still operates the food truck. The goal now, Mack said, is to continue to grow the brand and attract new customers, including the most rabid of meat-eaters.
Mack said she transforms carnivores into believers by using new ingredients and making the experience feel familiar.
“It is all about the spices and the texture. If you get those down pat, you’re not going to really miss the actual animal,” she said. “I call the kitchen my lab because it is all about the science of texture and food.”
The dishes are disguised with meaty names like pulled BBQ, pepper steak or the cheddar patty melt, so it’s important to read the descriptions.
I ordered the BBQ Bacon Mac Attack, which is pulled barbecue sandwich made with jackfruit (a species of tree in the fig family), vegan macaroni and cheese, crispy vegan bacon on toasted bread.
This sandwich was huge and was piled high with the jackfruit barbecue. The texture is similar to meat and the sauce gives the dish a familiar flavor.
The macaroni is what set the dish apart. The cheese flavor is prominent and compliments the jackfruit. I did not miss the dairy flavor in the vegan cheese used in the dish.
The part I was most skeptical about was the vegan bacon, but this place delivers. The bacon is actually coconut. While the coconut didn’t taste like pork, it added a crunch that the dish needed.
Jenna Eason ordered the patty melt and was impressed with the cheese sauce that is poured over the top. Jenna said she often worries that vegan cheese won’t be similar to the dairy product, but she enjoyed the taste and texture of the cheese sauce on her meatless burger.
Although we opted for what usually feels like heavy comfort food, we left Vegan Soul Food Cafe feeling really good. There was no nap needed after lunch.
There are six side-item choices — rice with gravy, macaroni and cheese, fries, loaded fries, side salad and collard greens.
We each got an order of fries while our fellow Telegraph reporter Laura Corley ordered collard greens. Laura devoured the collard greens and said that they were seasoned really well. Laura said the greens tasted like authentic southern greens that are flavored with meat.
The hand-cut fries weren’t super crispy or dripping with grease and paired great with vegan ranch sauce. The ranch is so popular, Mack said, that she bottles and sells it so guests can take it home.
We also ordered some of their barbecue nuggets made with jackfruit instead of chicken. It tasted similar to a boneless barbecue rib. The nuggets also come regular and buffalo. The buffalo offers a nice bite and pairs well with the ranch. Overall the flavor is really good with these and is a nice appetizer for the table or perfect for a meal for one.
There’s a small bakery cabinet that has a variety of sweet options, from chocolate chip cookies to turtle cupcakes.
Jenna chose the cupcake and said that the icing was the best part of it as it was a sweet end to her meal.
I opted for Mack’s homemade oatmeal cream pie. It was much larger than the ones you find in stores. It was so big that I was stuffed before I finished. It is a delicious treat that showcases the variety that you can expect here.
BBQ Bacon Mac Attack combo: $10.99
5 piece chicken nugget: $4.99
Oatmeal cream sandwich: $3
Cheddar Patty Melt: $10.99
Southern Vegan Soul Cafe:
Location: 2055 Eisenhower Parkway in Macon (located in the Macon State Farmers Market)
Hours: Tuesday 12 p.m. - 3 p.m, Wednesday and Thursday 12 p.m. - 6 p.m., Friday 12 p.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., Closed on Monday and Saturday.
Price range: $4-$12