Neighborhood market Soul N’ Vinegar opened in Church Hill two years ago, serving grab-and-go, affordable, healthy meals in the East End, an area oft regarded as a food desert. Owner Michelle Parrish, who opened a second Soul N’ Vinegar inside the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art in December, has said from the beginning that her mission is to sell food for everyone.
We caught up with Parrish to get her insight on what it’s like to run a business during a global pandemic and countrywide reckoning.
Style Weekly: What have you learned running your own business over the past two years and especially the past few months?
Michelle Parrish: You know, I didn’t spend a lot of time before we opened [in June 2018] planning my business model – it really just happened in terms of the mission of the business, which I’ll say I still haven’t quite found yet. I always knew I wanted to have a business that was affordable to a majority of people, something that felt inclusive, with options that weren’t necessarily available everywhere. I knew I wanted it to not be anything pretentious – it had to be a welcoming place. I think we’ve done a good job of that up to now, but we still haven’t reached everyone.
To that point – you’ve added an “#RVA Citizens” tab to your homepage. How are you hoping to reach people through this link?
Soul N’ Vinegar chef William and I had been talking about having a voting campaign even before all of this happened. After George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we wanted this to be something we prioritize. And you know, for me at least, I needed some sense of focus, something to channel my energy into for the immediate future. Adding that information was one of the ways to do this, to contribute. I don’t think “not knowing” should ever be a barrier to someone voting. Right now that tab is for the primary coming up, but in the future it will be a landing page for other initiatives or ideas that we think are worth highlighting.
As a woman of color in the food industry, what changes do you hope to see now that there seems to be a surge of momentum tackling racial injustice across the country?
Honestly before this I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the hospitality industry and race because I’m always looking at the industry in terms of sexism. But it’s a system, just like all of the other systems, built around the promotion and highlighting of white men, I think you see evidence of that in most places. I’ve had plenty of conversations over the years with my cooks about race, but it was never tied back specifically to the industry. Honestly, for these conversations to start happening, I feel like there is no better place to succeed than Richmond. It’s so supportive, and people are willing to listen and be proactive.
- Scott Elmquist
- Rice noodle bowl with peanut sauce, bok choy and marinated tofu.
Running not one but two food establishments is daunting in and of itself, let alone during a quarantine. How have you stayed sane through it all?
Right now everyone I know and – and I assume everyone on the planet – is on a roller coaster of emotion. Opening a business, especially one that has this focus on community, I put myself in the position where I have to hold myself accountable to what I said I was going to do. When I get to those dark places I have to remember to hold myself accountable to promises I made to myself, to keep carrying on with the business until I physically can’t any more.
But I’m a big believer in self-care too. I’ve been burning a lot of sage, I worked out this morning! I have my vitamins and apple cider vinegar shots. I think you need to do whatever you can to create moments that give you some kind of hope.
Miss the market’s Bangin’ Pimento Cheese? Reserve libations and food online to pick up at Soul N’ Vinegar Church Hill Wednesdays-Fridays. (soulnvinegar.com/online-meal-ordering).