Vegan food has changed a lot in the past 30 years, but The Dish at White Star Market has still found something new to serve—modern vegan food that tastes familiar.
Co-owners Domini Bradford and Jessica Kisling launched the all-vegan concept in September, in a whirlwind three days after being offered the space. Barely six months later, the female entrepreneurs say they’re busting at the seams.
The pair span two generations, Bradford with a 30-year career in vegan cooking, and Kisling with a brief background in engineering, yoga and a taste of running a vegan cafe out of the former Yoga Bliss. That’s where the two met, operating the small cafe at the studio, before quickly linking up to launch the new venture—equipped with a Walmart grill and all.
Bradford, as the sole chef at the restaurant, leads the menu research and development side of the business.
“Domini is an incredible cook,” Kisling says, adding her skills make The Dish what it is.
Kisling credits her first culinary job at the vegan cafe for taking that first chance on her, with no real culinary background to speak of.
When The Dish launched last year that’s exactly what it was: just one (vegan) dish a day. Avid followers turned to the restaurant’s Instagram page every day to see what was being served up. But that concept took a heck of a lot of planning—both on the business side and the consumers’. So The Dish launched a standing menu with rotating daily specials, including gluten-free pastries.
Yet the original new-dish-every-day concept is part of what helped The Dish grow its big online following. That, and their presence on the vegan website and app, Happy Cow, which helps vegans far and wide find places to eat at home and on the road.
At the end of February, they launched an app for mobile ordering; they’re staying out of the delivery game for now.
Bradford and Kisling say they want to expand beyond White Star, too and are now looking at brick and mortar options—potentially following in the footsteps of White Star staple Chow Yum Phat—or other shared space locations, remote kitchens and the like.
“I really hope that this is this restaurant that we can make into something really big, it feels that way, just because of the understanding that in the general world right now, even in the South,” Bradford says.
Like any business, they want to maximize output. Sharing a kitchen space with all the other White Star vendors (not to mention the steps for preventing nonvegan cross-contamination) can limit that output. Bradford says the only thing really stopping them is a staffing need. She’d love to get another chef in the kitchen with vegan experience, but that’s harder to find than meat substitutes.
Circling back to her roots in Jackson, Mississippi, Bradford says her dream is to turn The Dish into a co-op, where employees own the business. She stayed at the vegan restaurant in Jackson for 13 years in part because of the co-op atmosphere. Since she left, Bradford says she’s been waiting to get back into that community atmosphere.
When employees have a stake in the business, “it makes everybody put their heart into it at the best,” Bradford says. “You’ve got people who really care, or they wouldn’t be here.”
While veganism, vegetarianism, pescetarianism and general plant-based eating are on the rise, The Dish is still reaching a niche market in Baton Rouge. “Everybody knows a vegan,” the duo says.
Their customer base is broad, they say, and bolstered by the food hall, divide-and-conquer atmosphere. Reflecting on her own struggles with wanting to be vegan as a teenager, Kisling says they now see a constant flow of families coming to White Star, giving kids the chance to split off and ascribe to a diet different from their parents.
Bradford has seen a lot in her roughly 30 years in the vegan culinary world. But the biggest difference has been in the availability of vegan products.
Products like Beyond Burger have completely changed the vegan game, she says. When she entered the vegan culinary world in Mississippi she was working at a cafe that followed a macrobiotic diet—often associated with Japanese cuisine and that some claim can treat cancer.
Her focus on making food that feels familiar, but is vegan goes back to the simple idea that being vegan isn’t a massive sacrifice.
Read more about plant-based food in Baton Rouge from inRegister’s March cover story.