Delray Beach’s New Vegan Restaurant to Salute Black History
The burger-and-wings restaurant may be small, but chef Samuel Woods and historian Emmanuel George have ambitious plans for their combination of vegan eatery and local black history arts space.
At 1,000 square feet, Down the Rabbit Hole will occupy a squat strip mall, at 311 NE Second Ave., in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove. It’s a sequel to the Rabbit Hole, a vegan restaurant in Pompano Beach where Woods turns juicy burgers, tender ribs, and gooey macaroni and cheese into wholesome vegetable gold.
Because half the storefront will be devoted to history, Woods says Down the Rabbit Hole will use a smaller kitchen, serving a slimmed down version of the flagship menu. The restaurant will operate as a test kitchen for two possible spin-off franchises: Vrgr, an all-vegan burger bistro; and Wyng, whom Woods describes as “a vegan Wingstop.”
“It’s not realistic to recreate the Rabbit Hole menu in its entirety without me being there all the time, so we want to see how these concepts work out first,” says Woods, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. , who signed his lease in November.
Down the Rabbit Hole’s menu will feature dishes such as its Freedom Burger, an impossible patty topped with plant-based smoked pork belly and vegan mac and cheese on Texas toast. There’s also the 5 Boroughs, a New York-style ground cheese sandwich loaded with Impossible ground beef, onions, peppers and vegan cheese sauce in an Amoroso hoagie. And there are boneless “wyngs,” triple breaded, seasoned, fried, and tossed in one of 15 house sauces.
The restaurant, which they plan to open in November, is a partnership with Woods and George’s new company, CREATE, which stands for Cultural Renaissance Establishes A Tactical Evolution. It will share resources with George’s nonprofit Black Orchid Foundation, which has presented Tiny Desk-style concerts, called “The Chitlin Circuit,” at black historic venues in South Florida.
George is also an activist and conservative, and he is dedicated to bringing South Florida’s black history to light. He programmed the Fort Lauderdale Sistrunk-A-Fair arts and film festival, and in 2020 curated an “Ode to South Broward” exhibit, celebrating landmarks and pioneers in four of South County’s historically black neighborhoods. Broward.
“I really liked the idea of combining food and black history, and seeing the great work [George] was inspiring,” says Woods. “We have an obligation to tell the story of Florida and the black communities that haven’t had their story told.”
George says he first visited Wood’s Rabbit Hole in Pompano Beach last year while promoting black-owned businesses for the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Board.
“It’s been right hand, left hand ever since,” George says, describing his like-minded kinship with Woods. “We talk every day like we’re brothers now.”
In addition to vegan food, George says Down the Rabbit Hole will offer cooking classes, pop-up brunches, art history tours, author talks and poetry slams, with dedicated wall space to historic photos and screenings of short films. The space will be adorned in white and smoky gray paint, with LPs by Sade, Stevie Wonder, Tyler, the Creator and other black musicians mounted above the restaurant’s Z-shaped counter.
George says he is in talks to borrow artwork and photo reprints from nearby facilities such as Arts Garage, Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, Arts Warehouse and the Delray Beach Historical Society.
“We want to see them succeed,” says John Miller of the Delray Beach Historical Society. “We would be happy to lend you photographs. Delray is a gentrified community, but veganism is growing, and I think a space like theirs will be welcome.
George, who grew up in Liberia, a historically black neighborhood in Hollywood, says a book by Kitty Oliver (“Race and Change in Hollywood, Florida”) opened his eyes to “the racial dynamics in the courtyard where I grew up”.
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When Liberia’s Black Attucks High School closed in 1968, “there was a loss of cultural pride in South Broward,” George says. He points to desegregation as “a turning point for cultural pride” as black-owned businesses closed and local neighborhoods lost their identity.
A future Rabbit Hole photo exhibit, for example, could revisit Delray Beach’s former George Washington Carver High School. When Florida desegregated its schools in the 1960s and 1970s, Carver closed and the all-white Seacrest High School absorbed most of the black student body.
“With the cost of living going up all over South Florida, it’s worrisome because our history could be lost,” George says. “It’s a must, I think, for Samuel and I to be that bridge to present [pioneers’] stories.”
Part of their partnership is to steer the black community towards healthier plant-based eating, says George, who was “converted” by Woods to an all-vegan diet four months ago. “This place will bring together culture, history and healthy food. My life has gone 180 in the past year because of my plant-based lifestyle. We can’t sustain ourselves if we don’t put the right food into our systems.
Woods says her plant-based dishes allow meat eaters to try comfort food without the drastic lifestyle shift to veganism.
“We have high blood pressure and diabetes because of the food choices in the black community, which weren’t by choice, but it was what was available to us,” he says. “I cook meals that break old habits and make them more eco-friendly. The plan is to convert everyone with vegan wings and burgers that tear like meat, except everything is made from plants.
Down the Rabbit Hole, at 311 NE Second Ave., is scheduled to open in November 2022. For the restaurant menu, go to TheRabbitHole.Life.