We all know the saying, “I got it from my mama.” It could mean that you have inherited a plethora of traits from her. Maybe her big brown eyes that sparkle when she smiles, or that one dimple you notice only in pictures, or just perhaps your mother passed on her sassy yet fun personality.
However, for Francesa Chaney, owner of Sol Sips Vegan Bevs & Bites, one of the many things that she can proudly boast that she inherited from her mother is a healthy eating habit. And it is this habit that ultimately led Chaney, at the age of 25, to become the successful entrepreneur that she is today.
“I have always been around people who were mindful of eating healthy,” she says. “My mom, cousins, all kinds of people in my family who started to really get into the movement in the early 2000s of preventative health such as herbs and going back to the ways that we have already been doing historically as Black people.”
Being exposed to healthy eating at an early age, Chaney was always mindful of her body and took inventory of how she felt after certain meals. “I noticed a shift when I was eating healthier and eating foods that are more so from the earth. I was always aware of that,” she says.
“By the time I was 15, I really started to branch out and I started as a pescatarian. The biggest takeaway that I got from branching out into what I call lifestyle shifts because I feel that diet is such a harsh word, [and] that our body needs certain things at certain times.”
She continues, “We have our own unique relationship with our bodies as well. As I got older, I really started to ground myself in practicing plant-based eating and that itself has been a journey. That gravitation towards plant-based and colorful eating is really connecting with what’s being offered to us here [on the earth] and trying to cut out as many middlemen as possible in the packing processes of the food by eating the actual vegetable versus having it sitting in a brine.
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“And sometimes the grocery stores in general across the board are not that great in all neighborhoods, and sometimes you have to grab the veggie in the can, and that’s okay too as long as you are getting the nutrients.”
Sipping Tea in College
While in college, Chaney introduced her close friends and roommates to the different plant-based teas she prepared. “I was in college in 2014-2015. I was in Brooklyn College, and I had a few friends that were in NYU,” she says. “We would link together on Sundays to catch up and hang out and I would make teas at my house that I shared with my roommates who were also a part of our group. I would brew different teas and experiment with different teas. My favorite that I have done is a Brazil nut and guava tea. It’s really good,” she laughs.
“Since guava is not always in season, I didn’t add it to the menu [at Sol Sips]. But when it is in season, and you pair it with the Brazil nut and then I add a hint of maple syrup and it is just really good.”
It was after creating these plant-based drinks for her friends that made Chaney think about doing something on a larger scale.
Herbal Lessons in Brooklyn
Working in her cousin’s apothecary, she decided to test the waters. “I was working at my cousin’s apothecary in Crown Heights Brooklyn, and he said to me, ‘Hey you can bring your juices here and sell them on your shift while working.’ That gave me two times a week to interact with people and introduce my product to them,” she says.
“I was also learning a lot about which plants worked for this or for that, in terms of the body because that was the part of the job description. If someone came in and they would say, ‘Hey, I am having a hard time with arthritis or gout,’ I would know which herb to introduce them to, like Devil’s Claw. I also learned about the different pioneers in the preventative health space.”
Chaney also had the opportunity to sell her teas in other parts of Brooklyn. “I started working at the Life Wellness Center, a massage therapy and wellness space,” she says. “The owners there also gave me the opportunity to sell my drinks and have a few of them there in Bed Stuy.”
“I even did a few holiday pop-ups with this group in Long Island that highlighted Black-owned businesses. In addition, if a business or a group of people wanted to order a dozen to two dozen of our drinks, we would deliver them. It was very hands-on and homegrown.”
From Pop-Ups to a Permanent Space
After many successful pop-ups throughout Brooklyn, the year 2017 would be the turning point for Chaney. “We were offered a three-month pop-up in Bushwick from December 2017 until February 2018,” she says.
“The people were saying that they wanted it to be a neighborhood staple and wanted us to stay permanently. But, at that time, I wasn’t even thinking about that or thinking of it being a possibility at the time; it was just serendipity. The owner of the pop-up space owned a few different restaurants in Bushwick. They were going to move the restaurant that they had in a bigger location, so they said, ‘You are doing well with this space. Do you want to buy it?’ That gave me the opportunity to be in a space that we already knew since we had been in there for three months. Good thing was, we didn’t have to move anywhere else because the equipment was already there.”
With an offer on the table that she couldn’t refuse, Chaney decided to try crowdfunding. “We didn’t reach our goal,” she says. “But during the process of crowdfunding, there were people in my family that also pulled together so that we could get the space. I also put in what I had in my savings.”
Although she had just opened the space, the demand for her plant-based items in the neighborhood was great. “There were people who had heard about us because of the different media pieces written about us,” she recalls. “We had one month to transition between a pop-up and opening the space. We didn’t change much from how we were operating as a pop-up except now, added food and have a menu.”
However, food is not the only creative space that Chaney enjoys; she is also a musician. “I was a part of a duo called Sol and Luna. Sol and Luna were our brand names and the name just stuck. A lot of my friends started to call me Sol. So, when I started doing the drinks in college, it became Sol Sips. So, on April 5, 2018, we officially opened the restaurant, Sol Sips.”
Supply and Demand and the Cost of the Vegan Lifestyle
If you are new to veganism, one thing that might confuse you is why plant-based products tend to be more expensive. Chaney says it is due to supply and demand. “Mortality is the easiest way to create supply and demand because everyone wants to live longer,” she says. “I honestly don’t feel like the price variation makes sense because the food is literally coming from the earth. We always go back to the fact that historically we have always grown our own food to sustain ourselves.
“There are so many different fads and trends to get us to buy and be the best versions of ourselves with the era of self-care. I feel that you can’t go to someone and say, ‘Hey, go vegan and be plant-based and you are guaranteed that you will be living for a very long time,” she says. “Because certain things work differently for each one's body and certain things don’t. I think it is just the supply and demand of it and living off the land back in the day was not expensive.”
From Sol Sips' Door to Yours
Chaney’s love of food can now be shipped to your door. “For the past two years, we have been serving our Plant’d Chick’n, which is a fried oyster mushroom and you can now order it,” she says with excitement. “The reviews from those who have ordered it so far have been great. And in the next few months, it will be in stores.”
Not only did the gentrification change the demographics in the neighborhood, but it also brought a more diverse vegan audience. The New York native came up with her sliding scale brunch. “When we first started as a pop-up around February when we were ending, I was seeing the demographic, and you started seeing New York city transplants starting to come in as opposed to people who are from the neighborhood or neighboring neighborhoods. Saturday is the day that everyone is out, and everyone likes brunch. Let’s do the sliding scale variation, which is not new — it is something that is used across the board to ensure equity.”
She continues, “We were doing that on Saturdays, and it was between $7 and $15, and you would get a full meal and beverage on a special menu. Over the course of time because we were not doing dine-in for a bit, we just applied the sliding scale to the meal kits. So now when people buy meal kits, they can choose a scale or a tier of what they can pay and they get the same amount of food.”
Although she rotates the menu for her own creativity, you can still get the most requested dish on Sol Sips' menu, the chick’n and biscuit.