Chef Velvet Jacobs (right) on location at her second plant-based eatery, VTree Hollwood, in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of January Neal

It was 2018 when Chef Velvet Jacobs and her wife, Tre’ona Kelty-Jacobs, opened the vegan cafe Veltree in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood. The couple filled a huge void in the city’s food landscape, providing residents with a plant-based alternative to conventional soul food, including their takes on steak, crab cakes, and mac-and-cheese.

Since then, the business has flourished, according to Chef Jacobs, with customers still flooding the cafe amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was definitely slow for a few weeks,” she told QCity Metro on a phone call from California. “We had to make adjustments and downsize a bit. But just this past week, we surpassed some of the numbers we’d been doing before the pandemic hit. My staff says we’ve had lines around the corner. I don’t take any of that for granted.”

In fact, the chef attributes the cafe’s success to her believing in a higher power.

“I’ve always been a woman of faith,” she stated, “and it’s definitely paid off. Even during a time when so many businesses are closing their doors due to the pandemic, thankfully, we’re doing well. I always tell people that I feel like God has angels in the kitchen.”

The couple has recently taken their talents out west to Los Angeles with the April 30 soft opening of their second cafe, VTree Hollywood, inside the 100-year old Yamashiro Japanese restaurant in Hollywood Hills. The restaurant opened for take-out only during the soft launch and will officially open for dining when California’s mandatory lockdown is lifted.

“We decided to open our doors early despite the Covid-19 lockdown because I believe that you can find comfort in good soul food,” the popular chef said. “No matter what you are going through in life, good food will warm your heart.”

In perfect timing

Jacobs is excited about the new endeavor but believes that her steps were ordered to land in the city of angels more than a decade ago.

“A pastor spoke to me back in 2007, telling me I had an anointing in California,” she recalls. “He asked who I knew out there, which at the time was no one, and said that God is giving me that territory.”

Chef says she didn’t think much of it when it happened, but “always kept it in the back of my mind.” Fast forward to 2016 when a different pastor approached the couple and repeated the same vision. This time, she took it seriously, but again, waited on God’s timing.

Soon after the opening of Veltree, word-of-mouth transformed the cafe into one of the hottest spots in Charlotte. During 2019’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, entertainment mogul Nick Cannon — who attended Quail Hollow Middle School in Charlotte — visited the eatery in search of vegan food to fit his clean-eating diet.

“I asked him how he found us, and he said he Googled ‘vegan restaurants in Charlotte’ and we popped up,” Jacobs said with a laugh. “He wound up staying for two hours and ordered everything on the menu, paid for it, and then ordered everything again to-go. I remember asking God if that was some kind of sign.”

Turns out, it was. A few weeks later, Cannon contacted the couple to cater at the taping of his hit TV series “Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘N Out” in Atlanta. They went, and the feedback was great from those on set. Most encouraged them to take their soulful stylings to Los Angeles.

One Sunday, the couple started talking about expansion and wondered if Cannon would be interested in a partnership.

“We sent him a text, and within thirty seconds, he responded with ‘Let’s do it. I’m all in. Let’s make it happen.’” And with that, the partnership was formed, and just as importantly, a vision was realized.

VTree Hollywood was created to introduce Hollywood to a ”vegan SoulFull plant-based experience with a Southern twist.” The new menu includes items like chic’n and waffles, black-eyed peas, cornbread and BBQ ribs. Similar to the Charlotte spot, Jacobs expects plant-based eaters and meat lovers to enjoy the cuisine.

William Dawson is a journalist who now calls Charlotte home. A native New Yorker, his love of words can only be matched by his love of fine cuisine and a great bourbon.

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