Mikel (Business Partner) far left, Tre'ona Kelty-Jacobs in the middle and Velvet Jacobs on the right
It hasn’t been a year that the owners of VelTree Soul Food Restaurant opened their doors September 22, 2018 at 7945 N Tryon St #110, Charlotte, NC 28262. Paradoxically, VelTree is the only café in charlotte to serve lip-smacking vegan dishes boasting with flavor.
When married couple, Tre’ona Kelty-Jacobs and Chef Velvet Jacobs visited the QC [Queen City] about a year ago, they were looking for a vegan style restaurant that carried soul food. Much to their dismay, Charlotte didn’t offer anything close. Seizing the moment, Velvet [Vel] and Tre’ona [Tre] saw it as an opportunity to open a restaurant with the comfort foods much like the ones they were accustomed to in their hometown of Washington, DC.
Tre’ona, the brilliant brains behind the VelTree brand gives credit to Chef Joya, who’s been in Charlotte for a long time. Chef Joya caters vegan soul food...however, “She was here even before we were here," says Tre'ona. "But, she is a personal Chef. By far, we are the only soul food vegan restaurant in Charlotte,” she explained the huge difference that sets them aside from other vegan restaurants-- You won't find another, not in Charlotte.
Slipping into an untapped market, to establish a network as well as a brand, that’s always a plus in any business. Velvet and Tre’ona struck gold in that arena. Tre’ona confirms that they ran into a few snags trying to integrate [which you can’t tell now], but they fought through the small tribulations, and they continue to make VelTree a burgeoning success story.
While living in DC, Velvet worked at other restaurants, including a vegan diner that she shared with her sister. In addition to that, she started a non-profit organization called “Vegan in the Hood,” where she educated people in the community on plant-based foods among other humanitarian efforts.
“They call Velvet the transition specialist, because she’s helped people that literally changed their eating habits into a plant based lifestyle,” Tre'ona remarked proudly. "She gives you food that reminds you of what you’re used to like the macaroni & cheese, or the vegan chicken strips, that might remind you of chicken nuggets. When we did Vegan in the Hood, that’s how we tricked the kids into eating Vegan food. They didn’t know that it wasn’t chicken. The good thing is that the food was better for them because they aren’t getting all that cancerous stuff in their body.”
Velvet and Tre’ona want to partner with organizations and build community gardens so that they can bring the Vegan in the Hood to the metro area.
Erica Nicholson, patron and friend of the owners said that when the women opened the restaurant, they were already looking for ways to give back and invest in the community especially during the holidays even though they, themselves, were new to the area.
“I thought it was unique for them to come to Charlotte and not only start their business but help others,” she said.
Velvet grew up on a farm with her grandparents in Hanover, NC. That’s where she acquired her knack for organic seasoning and cooking. When you think about farming, you envision pigs, cows, chicken, fresh veggies, and the good ole fashion soul food that the elders made when Sunday dinners were the typical kickbacks at grandma’s house. Well, that’s the same type of vibe that Velvet brought to Charlotte, everything, minus the meat.
VelTree accommodates to a smorgasbord of consumers including celebrity favs like Erica Badu, Nick Cannon, Ayanna Gregory [daughter of late civil rights activist Dick Gregory], and a host of others. They love VelTree, but who could blame them? Not only does VelTree serve up flavorsome dishes, but their atmosphere is reminiscent to the historical restaurant called Soul Shack that once sat on Tuckasegee road, where patrons entered the building nonstop until closing even on a Tuesday with hearty appetites ready to dig into some good food.
Tre’ona said the secret to their successful business is that Velvet prepares the dishes, and Tre’ona focuses solely on the business aspects…Ergo, VelTree. “Besides being a couple, God is our backbone. We had the struggles before the success,” says Tree while talking about the powerful details of their business partnership. “We know each other very well, and we know what makes the other person tick. I know that I make the business profitable and she does the cooking. We know our roles.”
As for the Annual Soul-Full Vegan Fest, it’s a pioneering barbecue equipped with ribs, burgers, board games, jump rope, and a good hand of spades, that’s if you know how to play your hand. It’s all the trappings of a backyard cookout without the meat. Although the event is at capacity, Tre’ona encourages people to come out, network, hobnob and have a great time.
Location: Heist Brewery and Barrel Arts: 1030 Woodard Avenue.
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