Vine City’s Local Green Atlanta restaurant may seem like just another pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan diet-friendly restaurant, but for owner Zak Wallace and members of the community, it’s a solution to the current food desert that exists within the area.
Located on the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. NW and Joseph E. Lowery Blvd NW, Local Green offers a menu of fresh smoothies, acai bowls, salads, and healthy versions of tacos, burgers and phillys.
Wallace explained that the idea for the restaurant was formed from the effort to fill a need to fulfill food deserts in the inner city and within urban communities to create good tasting options that are healthy for an urban palette.
“I chose Vine City for Local Green because I wanted something that really connected all the communities,” Wallace said. “I wanted to impact the communities that are most affected and to be in the heart of a food desert, but I also figured being in an area that’s being gentrified and has high traffic would be the best place to start.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food deserts are described as low-income communities that exist more than one mile from a reliable source of fresh produce and other healthy whole foods.
As a result, residents are forced to shop at convenience stores where they encounter prices higher than full-service supermarkets, with limited selections. They’re more likely to have processed foods with high fat, salt and sugar content to choose from.
Within Atlanta, there are several neighborhoods including Mechanicsville, Capitol View, Collier Heights, Oakland City which fits the same description for a food desert as Vine City and the 36 percent of Atlanta consists of food deserts based on findings from the USDA.
Wallace started Local Green as a food truck back in August 2018. In January 2019, he was able to officially open his brick and mortar in Vine City.
“I don’t think anything’s wrong with turkey or chicken, I just believe people consume so much of it and I think everything is right with vegetables,” Wallace said. “The goal is not to demonize meat, but there’s no shortage of meat restaurants, there is a shortage of great-tasting vegan restaurants.”
“There’s so much chicken, beef and pork in our communities that we needed a place where that was forbidden, where there is the exact opposite of what’s being provided in the community.”
Local Green’s menu items, which are named after cultural icons, are created with the main objective of satisfying optimal health and taste.
“Health is the key. We also want good tasting food. So, it has to be something that’s very desirable… something that creates a craving, an addictive type of quality,” Wallace said.
Wallace said he gave his menu items culturally-related names to connect them to things that we value in our culture and culturally relevant icons. Some of the items include a Basquiat pizza, three stack cauliflower tacos, an ode to Andre 3000, and notorious shrimp tacos which pay homage to Biggie Smalls.
“I wanted every name to be as big and memorable as a Big Mac, that’s my way of speaking to the culture while accomplishing the goal of providing healthy food,” Wallace said.
The ‘rapper’s delight’, a salmon philly with grilled vegetables, mushrooms, melted vegan mozzarella and barbeque sauce on a French brioche roll, is the restaurant’s number one seller.
However, with the prices of seafood and healthier options being so high it is difficult for Wallace to keep the prices the same. But he said that the volume that he buys allows him to keep prices manageable.
“For a quick-service restaurant, we’re right within the competitive price point,” Wallace said. “Fast food has dominated our communities for the past 60 years. A lot of the youth are becoming a lot more conscious and are beginning to shake the paradigms that were set before them regarding eating habits.”
He shared that he plans to expand Local Green Atlanta into more neighborhoods and across state lines.
“What’s next for Local Green Atlanta is expansion into more communities across Atlanta also expansion into Local Green Charlotte, we will probably have a cookbook coming by the end of this year or early 2021,” Wallace said. “We also just bought a 24-foot food truck so that’s gonna be exciting to see and to travel and hit different pockets of the city to connect with different people on other sides of town.”
“My favorite thing about owning this business is affecting change in our communities. I call it, being an oasis in a food desert, it makes it all worth it.