[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen we hear soul food, we imagine a plate of fried chicken with hearty sides of mac n cheese, collard greens and cornbread. Although most soul food lovers are looking for the classics that bring them right back to grandma's kitchen, one spot in Austin, Texas is changing the name of this traditional Southern food group. Sassy's Soul Food Truck serves down-home, finger-licking-good vegan soul food to the Austin area.
Along with being a unique shift from the meat-centric dishes that soul food typically consists of, Sassy's Soul Food is distinct for the backstory of its founder, Andrea Dawson. Dawson spent most of her life spending as little time in the kitchen as possible, and the now-food truck owner openly admits that she used to dislike cooking.
How Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food Came to Be
As opposed to the kitchen, Dawson's place of work and passion has always been the stage. Before moving to Austin, she performed all over the world providing entertainment with her famous blues vocals. Dawson eventually came to Austin to be a singer in a blues band, and this is where her journey into vegan soul food began.
Dawson grew up helping her mother cook for her large family, which is what led to her dislike of cooking that lasted throughout most of her adult life. However, she began developing digestive issues and was suddenly forced to change her diet to support her health. Dawson eventually shifted to a fully vegetarian diet, forcing her to stop enjoying the go-to meals she grew up eating.
However, Dawson missed the hearty, flavorful soul food dishes she learned from her mother. She decided to learn how to make these scrumptious dishes vegan, so that she could still enjoy the flavors and textures of her beloved soul food. Through the process of learning how to cook vegan food using YouTube videos, Dawson discovered a hidden talent.
"I knew I was not going to be able to do all those fancy foods that I see vegan chefs do - I'm just going to do the stuff I grew up with, and that's the best I can do," Dawson said. "And so far, it's been pretty good."
The stars aligned for Dawson to become a food truck owner when she found a truck for sale, which was reportedly in "horrible shape." She then fixed the truck up, cheered on by a wide network of family, friends and fans who helped her to name the truck and even invested in her business to make her dream a reality.
Sassy's is more than just a place to get delectable food, it's also an essential part of the community of Austin's Black-owned businesses. Dawson sees her business as a form of reparations since her food truck was made possible by a large investment made by her white female friend. With her vegan Soul Food, Dawson hopes to provide a haven for the Black community of East Austin, serving them the food that has always been central to Black culture. "That makes me feel really good - that they can have a piece of home," Dawson said.
The Black Food Truck Community
Since the pandemic started in early 2020, many Black business owners have shifted their focus to ghost kitchens, food halls and food trucks rather than brick-and-mortar restaurant locations, something that came about because Black-owned businesses were disproportionately affected by the pandemic as compared to other groups.
Studies show that 41% of Black-owned businesses shut down when governments across the country told all non-essential businesses to close, a stark difference from the 17% of White-owned businesses. Along with this, Black restaurateurs struggled to have access to emergency capital at the start of the pandemic, causing Black businesses to be hit much harder than others.
Because of these factors, many Black restaurateurs and entrepreneurs have found a solution in food trucks. These mobile eateries provide a way to start a business with less overhead costs and less risk regarding Covid regulations, allowing business owners an alternative to opening a brick-and-mortar location. Sassy's is just one of the pillars of the Black Food Truck community in Austin, fighting against the gentrification of the city to create space for the Black community.
Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food Menu
Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food Truck has all of the classic soul food dishes you'd find in a diner in Georgia, South Carolina or Mississippi. The Soul Bowl features Loaded Sweet Potato Fries topped with Black-eye Peas, Greens, Vegan Bacon, and Vi's Piccilli Relish. This "mind blowingly soulful" bowl is spicy and delicious.
Alternatively, try the Cajun Mac and Cheese, Okra Bowl for a vegan succotash or the Vegan Pokechop Sandwich made with Wheatmeat, Mushroom, and Porkchop Flavorings. The Chicon N Waffles is Dawson's vegan version of the soul food staple chicken and waffles, made with Crispy Fried Chicken Seitan, an eggless waffle and pumpkin spice-coconut syrup. Choose Hot Lemon Pepper, Orange or Jerk for the dipped chicon flavors.
Sassy's also has a variety of scrumptious sides like Savory Greens, Fried Cabbage, Hot Water Cornbread, Refried Creamy Blackeye Peas, Street Corn, Sweet Potato Fries and Fried Okra. The Chicon Basket is Sassy's take on a fried chicken basket, and you can choose Hot Lemon Pepper, Asian Orange or Caribbean Jerk for the flavor.
READ MORE: This San Antonio Food Truck Serves Up The Best Tacos Al Vapor