West End is a predominantly Black historic neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, that has been a destination for vegan and vegetarian eateries for decades. We highlight some key players in the neighborhood who are changing the community one healthy meal at a time.
Name: Ras Izes
Age: Hometown: Queens, New York
Years of Experience: 25 years
Eatery: Vegan Dream Doughnuts
Location: 576 Lee St. SW Suite E. Atlanta, GA 30310
Tell me about your business and how did you get started.
I’ve been vegan now 30 years solid [and] in that time I’ve been more entrepreneurial. I started from vending to catering [and] we would travel and sell food and juices. I specialize in more than just one thing [so] most people know me for one or the other. Whether it’s doughnuts, some people know me for my food, [and] some people know me for my juices.
What does your menu have to offer?
My menu offers real natural ingredients. Things made from natural sources like real rain water, real well water, real vegetables, real fruit, real natural sea moss. A lot of things we make from coconut flour, so it’s gluten-free and we cater to ones who are on a health vibe and don’t need all the processed stuff. We don’t make the doughnuts with eggs or sugar so it takes out all that processed stuff and just gives you light, natural healthy stuff. That’s the plan to just change the whole mind frame that making things that are good for you taste good, as opposed to just making something that’s good. We do things that are fresh every day. You can’t live off of processed food, so if you’re really gonna eat real vegan food, it has to be something that’s coming from someone’s hand, preparing it naturally. I do different doughnuts each day, so it’s always something new. Baskin Robbins only has 32 [flavors], but my flavors are endless. A favorite will always be my Banana Caramel. I do a French Vanilla Almond Hazelnut, I do a Banana Strawberry Caramel, and so the flavors go on and on.
Why did you choose to open your business in the West End?
West End is the last community we have left. We have Black businesses, Black people supporting Black. We have Black educational units; we can educate ourselves, and there’s so much history here for us as a people so this is the best place to be. I’m here to heal the people, and I know that food is your medicine, so I am here to heal the people with natural foods.
There have been complaints over the years about Black communities not having access to healthy food, but West End seems to be a hotspot for vegan and vegetarian eateries. Why do you think that is?
The history of Atlanta brings us here because it’s such a deep embedded history with us as Black people. The reason we came to Atlanta was to be educated because you had the Black institutions here, you had the first high schools, the first colleges for us to actually attend and so a lot of Black people came here specifically to be educated. So when they came here, they sought to educate themselves and better themselves in their life and uplift. So that is the reason to this day we still come here. We just really don’t grasp the wholeness of it yet because its just so marginalized in different ways, but the foundation of Atlanta is really a Black city.
With an uptick of businesses, people moving into the area and the beltline expansion, West End seems to be experiencing a resurgence. However, gentrification has also been a concern for many. How are Black business owners responding to gentrification?
The West End is covered for the simple fact that we’re working together and supporting each other. Like during the COVID time, Black people are supporting more Black businesses. Black people are also eating more healthy so those are two win-win situations for all these vegan restaurants here in the West End because we’re Black-owned and we’re dealing with natural health so we’re already ahead of the curve. During the pandemic we were open, why, because we’re essential.
What do you want your role to be in the community?
I am an entrepreneur and I want Black people to be more entrepreneurial in anything they need and do because we need it. That’s what’s gonna sustain us. We have to get back to building and making products again. We have to get back to patterns and making designs again and be more creative. My life goal is to own products and patents of products. I want people to realize what Black supremacy is and be an example of it by making sure our dollars are circulating in our own community so we can have something for ourselves in generations to come.
How would you like to see the community five years from now?
Blacker Black. It’s going that route anyway, I just want it to stay returning on to that because even though they built all the stuff they built; the Beltline and all that, we’re still gonna enjoy that. We’re the children of the sun, so we’re gonna be here throughout the test of time.
For more information check out the website Vegandreamdoughnuts.com and follow them on Instagram @vegandream_ and their podcast Think Champs on YouTube.