|PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY|
|Denise Hairston is taking her fight for healthy food alternatives to her new venture, Dee’s Vegan To-Go in City West Commons, which opens later this month.|
The former restaurateur will open a to-go and delivery storefront, Dee’s Vegan To-Go, in City West Commons (1540 West Blvd. Suite 100) by the end of November.
“When I used to work with the women’s health network, I found that there were a lot of illnesses in the Black community, especially with African American women that are things that could be preventable,” said Hairston, whose vegan cuisine has been a staple at the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market for years. “I had four women die in a five-year time period from chronic diseases. I started studying. I said there’s something to [what Black women are eating].”
Hairston’s mother died from heart disease, which the American Heart Association reports that cardiovascular diseases, which kill nearly 50,000 Black women annually, are often linked to the amount of sodium in a person’s diet.
Hairston’s grandmother and aunt died from cancer and another aunt died from kidney failure at 44 years old.
Black people are impacted by kidney failure three times more than white people, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A lot of it could have been prevented, or you could have given yourself a longer lifespan if you had just done a little bit of exercise and eaten right, because they all ate very, very bad—high fat, high sodium, all of that,” Hairston said. “Those are things that I found, and said, ‘no, we have to stop this some kind of way.’”
Hairston has not eaten meat in 32 years and became completely vegan 11 years ago. She began preparing meals at family gatherings without meat, and while everyone was surprised by the ingredients, they embraced the taste.
“They’re like, ‘you made collard greens without meat? You made green beans without meat?’” said Hairston, who studied culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University and Central Piedmont Community College. “They loved it. From there, I wrote a couple of cookbooks.”
Hairston had a full-service restaurant in her hometown of St. Louis but decided that path was not for her.
“It was overwhelming work and I never, ever want to do that again,” she said.
That is why she opted for a small storefront. It allows her to do what she loves without the hassle of a full-service restaurant, especially during a pandemic.
“I love this, because I can still get my foods that people love out the door and to them, but I don’t have to have all that headache and expense of a full-service restaurant,” she said.
The West Boulevard corridor is one of six areas included in the city of Charlotte’s Corridors of Opportunity program, which was launched last month with the Beatties Ford Road corridor. The $24.5 million program is designed to address gaps in infrastructure, workforce, transportation, housing and code enforcement, business development, public safety and urban design.
The remaining corridors include Central Avenue/Albemarle Road, Freedom Drive/Wilkinson Boulevard, Graham Street/North Tryon Street, as well as Sugar Creek Road/Interstate 85. Key to addressing the West Boulevard corridor is the lack of access to healthy foods, as the area is considered a food desert. The city is working with members of the neighborhood to establish the city’s first grocery co-op, Three Sisters Market, in addition to bringing in restaurants that provide healthy options like Dee’s Vegan To-Go.
“It is so important that we continue to provide healthy food options and access to residents along the corridor, because right now we don’t have that,” said District 3 council member Victoria Watlington, which is where West Boulevard is located. “We want to invest in people’s education and their economic mobility, but we also want to invest in their health. Part of doing that is partnering with healthy food options with business owners.”
The corridor was also added to the city’s #StreetEats program at City West Commons (1520 West Blvd.), transforming parking spaces and sidewalks into outdoor eating spaces to promote physical distancing. The space also features a mural showcasing the neighborhood’s history by Davidson College graduate Makayla Binter, a Hearst Teaching Fellow at Charlotte Country Day School.
The program runs through Nov. 22, which allows Dee’s Vegan To-Go to serve the neighborhood before the storefront opens.