Cooking controversy: Vegan-beloved chef is moving into a big restaurant space and dropping the vegan-only menu
When Staci Davis opened Radical Eats two years ago, it wasn't an overnight success. The vegan-only restaurant housed in a humble — call it charmingly cozy and grungy — one-story building on Fulton between Calvacade and Moody Park contemplated closing on slower days, doing away with the less-than-popular lunch service and reevaluating menu options weeks after launch.
Winds started to change for the chef, rendering the Mexican-inspired restaurant a destination for all types of diners. Davis' success lies in cooking up dishes that are mainstays at conventional eateries — only hers were vegan. Tacos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and fried jalapenos are translated into vegan variants using ingredients like creamy almond sauce, dairy-free cream cheese alongside plenty of vegetables.
The fried avocado tacos with gluten-free tortillas are a sought-after specialty. On Sundays, the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet that offers pancakes, tofu migas and tamales sells out quickly, particularly on holiday weekends.
And now Radical Eats is growing up, moving on and grooming itself. Davis is uprooting her operations to take over the space formerly occupied by the recently shuttered Roots Bistro, located at 507 Westheimer Rd. The restaurateur is collaborating with Roots Bistro owner/partner Ash Shah and general manager Kenneth Choate to bring a version of the radical concept to a major restaurant packed neighborhood.
"It's a piece of shit but I love it. But I can't sit around and wait for the fate of my restaurant to be decided by others."
The move is necessary, Davis tells CultureMap.
"The roof leaks — it rains actually — there's no insulation and the electrical system is in dire need of repair," Davis says of her current location. "Imagine in this weather, what it feels like in the kitchen.
"We are working in horrible conditions, and I want to provide a safe and healthy working environment for my employees."
Davis says the future of the structure she's leaving, owned by Felix Morales, could be in jeopardy, and that it's at risk of foreclosure in the next coming months. She's inquired about purchasing the building, but the lien holder hasn't been able to provide much information on the proceedings.
"It's a piece of shit but I love it," Davis jokes. "But I can't sit around and wait for the fate of my restaurant to be decided by others. I have to do something."
Davis hopes to quietly open the Westheimer location in the middle of July for breakfast only, but not before making decor changes that nod to the essence of Radical Eats. She wants to hold onto the accessible, fun and casual ambiance of her former home, and not concede to the more posh feel just because it's on Westheimer.
A Cursed Restaurant Locale?
Some say that this Westheimer spot is cursed, though. 507 Westheimer has seen its own share of drama amid a myriad of tenants changing concepts, moving in — and moving out.
Eighteen months after Café Moustache opened as a rebranded version of So Vino, it closed its doors. Roots Bistro established vegetable-friendly operations with vegan chef German Mosquera (he's now at Restaurant Cinq at La Colombe d'Or) and his departure raised eyebrows about management practices when BRC chef Chandler Rothbard replaced Mosquera's signature style and made it his own.
The kitchen was overshadowed in March when controversial signs used domestic violence jokes in an attempt to sell beer, drawing attention from international media outlets. Roots Juice ceased service abruptly when general manager Becki O'Brien said her farewells.
Davis should prepare for drama of her own as well.
Radical Eats will be less reformist and more conformist with a menu that includes free-range local meats, dairy and eggs — a decision that surely will infuriate hardcore veganistas. Just ask Whole Foods Market Montrose officials what transpired when salmon appeared on a spread during an in-store appearance by Engine 2 Diet's author Rip Esselstyn. Davis has already garnered harsh criticism for her decision.
"I am not vegan, but I am very accommodating to the vegan community," Davis tells CultureMap. "The animal proteins I will use will be from local farmers I know well. I will never source anything from a factory farm.
"For me, it's about being environmentally conscious."