SAN ANTONIO – It’s not just the coconut milk that Tia Rodriguez pours into her pot of curry that makes it sing. It’s the soul.
“I am a major, major foodie,” she said. “My grandmother, actually, she was a chef, and I just come from a family of cooking women.”
Cooking is Rodriguez’s business. She whips up her family’s southern-style staples, crab cakes, fried chicken, and mac and cheese, but with a tweak. Every down-home dish is plant-based.
“You don’t miss the flavors at all,” Rodriquez said. “Everything is according to the original recipe. We just made some substitutions.”
Vegan, cultural, comfort foods are on the menu at Rodriguez’s eatery, Urban Soul Market. She cooks out of a ghost kitchen, an abandoned restaurant on Pat Booker Road, and serves it up as curbside cuisine. For now, her hours are not traditional, but neither is her business model. Customers can place their orders online and pick up at the designated time and day.
As for the customers’ reviews, Rodriguez often hears, “I can’t believe it’s vegan.”
Her business venture all began as a personal journey. Rodriguez turned to vegan eating for her own health.
“What I found was there were not enough places that were serving this kind of food,” she said.
So, Rodriguez started cooking out of her house. Word spread, and business boiled over.
“We provide that sense of comfort that you are missing as a vegan,” she said.
The journey has had its challenges. What the young entrepreneur decided she needed was an extra pinch or two of business know-how. She’s now one of 10 small business owners participating in Maestro Entrepreneur Center’s pilot program that teaches and supports.
“Last year was COVID. Next year could be something else,” said Mari Zavala, Maestro’s executive director. “We want them to be resilient and we want them to be prepared to take on whatever challenges life might bring to them.”
Rodriguez is grateful. And, she’s hungry. She hopes to eventually open more locations.
“These are foods that we have, you know, that we grow up on,” she said. “It’s very important to have that option in our community.”
One order at a time, she’s feeding her community’s soul.