Flavorful, accessible Soul N’ Vinegar is open for business at 2910 Q Street. The low-key, community-focused eatery opened in June 2018 with a grab-and-go location at 2832 R Street, but moved into its new, larger eat-in location in March 2023, offering diverse, healthy food options to Church Hill’s day crowd in a casual neighborhood location.
Think flavor-packed, satisfying options like their colorful Blackened Shrimp Bowl, savory Chopped Chicken Verde Sandwich, nearly famous Bangin’ Pimento cheese (also available grab-and-go or wholesale) or popular fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls with Chili Oil. They also feature menu specials, such as their gorgeous homemade summer Strawberry Shortcake, and a diverse drink menu with specialty coffees and smoothies packed with ingredients like coconut water, chia and hemp seeds, goji berries, and more healthy goodness.
From gluten-free to vegetarian or vegan – there is something for nearly everyone. The menu includes multicultural influences from Mediterranean and Asian to French and Southern, made from fresh ingredients. Though the menu has been set since their Q Street opening in March, they occasionally offer specials to test out new recipes. The food is the brain child of owner / operator Michelle Parrish and her supportive partner in business and life, Chef William Rimell. The pair met working together at Blue Talon Bistro in Williamsburg, and Rimell (whose resume includes positions at upscale RVA restaurants Lemaire and Shagbark) has been with Parrish since the beginning of the Soul N’ Vinegar venture, building the business and running the daily operations with Parrish.
Culturally diverse, flavorful food options are nothing new for Michelle Parrish. The Massachusetts native grew up in a home with two cooks in the kitchen – her mother, who emigrated to the US in her 20s from Korea, and her African-American father, an Army brat who did his share of traveling. She considers herself very lucky to have grown up in a household where both parents cooked vastly different foods – from Cajun spice and heat to traditional Korean foods; from octopus to pigs’ feet. “I love food,” she tells me. There is nothing I won’t eat or won’t try.” Although she focuses on menu items that aren’t too obscure, she tries to stick with options that are familiar to people of many different cultures.
Parrish’s experience in the food industry has been a long and winding road. She started her first food service job at a chain restaurant in her 20s and worked her way up. Connections with award-winning Jersey native Chef Joe Sparatta of upscale Heritage RVA led her to working at Secco Wine Bar, popular Mediterranean small-plate restaurant in the RVA area until April 2022. In between, she worked in the food industry in a hotel, a resort, a retirement facility, chef-owned Blue Talon Bistro in Williamsburg, VA, fine dining restaurants in Boston, and a stint in on-site Amuse Restaurant in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts back in RVA. She took burn-out breaks and returned to school, but ultimately, the twists and turns only got her closer to figuring out exactly what she wanted and where her heart was: the entrepreneurial venture of offering “diverse foods for diverse peoples” at Soul N’ Vinegar.
When the Q Street spot became available, Parrish noticed a posting regarding the space on social media, along with comments from the community stating that they didn’t want another upscale spot that felt inaccessible and pretentious. She was interested, but knew she would need help to make her inclusive community concept happen for this neighborhood. Following conversations with the building’s owner, the community indeed came through. Among the many contributors, Michelle notes that RVA renaissance man and Hugh Helen founder Todd Waldo first welcomed her into the neighborhood and helped connect the dots. Michelle describes non-profit neighbors Blue Sky Fund as being among her best cheerleaders. She credits Betsy Hart and Me’Kel Williams of neighboring Robinson Theater Community Arts Center with helping and encouraging her every step of the way. Jon from Eastcoat Concrete poured floors in the location, which Michelle touts as one of the best investments you can make in a commercial kitchen. She also acknowledges Nathan Hughes of Sperity Ventures, who represented the landlord in the restaurant’s leasing, as being a true supporter of small businesses and their passionate owners in an ongoing and impactful way.
Clearly, community is everything for Michelle. She tells me “there is a need, and I want to fill that need. The skills that I have are based around cooking. My role as a citizen and as a positive contributor to my society is to use my skills.” She further explains that what you eat can affect your mental health and emotions, and it can be difficult for some to find fresh, healthy food at a reasonable cost. To that end, she wanted to build a welcoming physical space where people can connect that feels truly accessible to everyone – and she has accomplished this at Soul N’ Vinegar.
When asked about future plans, Michelle tells me that she is living in the present and reflecting on what is successful in her new space. While growing the presence of the brick and mortar location, Soul N’ Vinegar’s catering is a bulk of the business, by design. Relying on walk-in traffic can be a fickle business, and Parrish has wisely diversified the restaurant’s income to ensure financial success. Bottom line: she is kicking butt in this thriving Woman- and Minority-owned business, staying afloat through a worldwide pandemic and a time of political unrest and racial injustice.
Parrish says it best: “the thing that people value about our food is that it’s fresh. People often say ‘it tastes like you just made it!’ And we did. We literally just made it.” Craving a Crunchy Parmesan Chopped Salad yet? (‘Cause I am…) Check out Soul N’ Vinegar on the Hill or order through GrubHub Monday through Friday from 11am – 7pm. Check out Soul N’ Vinegar’s menu here, and follow their Facebook page or Instagram for specials and current happenings.
Kari Smith is a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming. Follow Kari’s writing adventures at KariSmithWrites.com, or facebook.com/KariSmithWrites.