We Are Idaho: Mae Gaines

Mar 5, 2021

My name is Mae Gaines and I'm the owner of Vegan Soul in Boise, Idaho.

I came from California. I've been a vegan for three years now. I went vegan one year after I got here to Boise.

I would go out to these restaurants and they would have nothing vegan at all. Nothing. I'm searching, searching, searching all over the place to find vegan food. I went to all these different events throughout Boise and Meridian and there is no vegan food.

I remember going to the Boise Soul Food Festival. Man, let me tell you, I was so excited, I waited and waited and waited for the soul food festival to pop up. And when they finally had that day I was there early. There were about maybe 10 vendors and everybody had the same thing on their menu. And secondly, nobody had anything for vegans.

"I had a catering business when I was in California. ... I was killing it with soul food. It was not vegan then. And so I was just thinking, like, why can't I eat like that anymore?"

So I said, wait a minute, I think I can switch this over into vegan food.

I went vegan for my health because I was having some hormonal issues, some imbalances that seemed to just happen when I got here in Idaho.

For example, I had a lot of bleeding from fibroids. And the fibroids were so bad ... it almost felt like I had a volleyball in my stomach. And I was bleeding heavily for like two weeks at a time and all throughout my life my menstrual cycle was only like two to three days.

And it got to the point where I couldn't even really go places. I was a massage therapist when I first got here. And when I was working, I couldn't get through the whole hour. So I knew something was definitely wrong.

The first thing that I noticed when I went vegan is that the bleeding stopped. My cycle immediately got back on track. And that to me was such a relief.

I started to experiment with some of these dishes and cut things out. I cut out dairy. I've always been allergic to dairy. It’s actually really a focal point for Black people. There are a lot of Black people who have a lot of digestive issues because of dairy. When your body tells you, “hey, I don't like milk,” you need to listen.

It's never too late. What you do today is going to be benefiting you 10 years from now.

I had a catering business when I was in California and I was really popular. And I made a lot of different, like soul food. I was killing it with soul food. It was not vegan then. And so I was just thinking, like, why can't I eat like that anymore? You know what I mean? I wanted that food, like that comfort food, that old down home like southern type of fulfillment. So I said, I think I can start transforming the recipes that I did before. It was a trial and error for me.

And I started planning in August of 2019 to open up in January of 2020. I decided to do the soft opening, because I need to see how the flow of customers would be. By the time I opened, there were already people waiting outside. I sold a vegan Po Boy, I did the vegan chicken sandwich, I did the vegan tuna melt. I got my first reviews that day. I sold out that day. It was very well received and people were buzzing about me like all over the place.

Some of Vegan Soul's menu items
Credit Mae Gaines

In March, you know, COVID started to hit really badly. They decided that they want to shut everything down. So I decided to open in June. When I said I was going to open again, people were like, "We're going to catch this lady this time."

And I noticed that people instead of just ordering one or two items off of my menu that time, some people were ordering everything I had that day. What was going on is PETA had sent out some of their people that they send out to secretly try these restaurants. And I was very humbled by that, that people were coming from other places to try my food.

A week or two later after that they emailed me and told me that they came and tried my food and that it was so good that they had returned. And they started telling me about my soul rice, that they had never had anything like that, they talked about my chicken sandwich, my vegan fried chicken, they said they could not stop eating that stuff. And then they said they had chosen me for the vegan soul food award.

"Since I've won that PETA award, I get people that come from other states. ... They put Boise on the travel list, that to me is just absolutely amazing."

I have some goals that are really in the long term. I'm actually working on getting frozen foods inside the stores here. I'm talking with the Boise Co-op. My goal is to make some mouthwatering vegan entrees. I want to make the best vegan macaroni and cheese you buy frozen ever. It will be the macaroni and cheese first and then it will be my candied yams, which is also one of my big sellers.

I'm just going to be doing pop ups until I'm able to raise the funds to get an eco-friendly food trailer or a food shack.

Since I've won that PETA award, I get people that come from other states. They call me and say like, look, we're traveling to Boise and we want to come and try it. I feel so inspired and so humbled by that. They put Boise on the travel list, that to me is just absolutely amazing.

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