After a year of building a following through catering, pop-ups, and social media, Bryon and Natasha Dockett are bringing their fan-favorite vegan dishes to Fairmount with a permanent location of UnSoul Food. The Docketts are taking over what’s now vegan eatery Greyhound Café at 1839 Poplar Street, with the opening slated for Monday, June 22.
They’re vegan chefs first, Bryon Dockett says, and plan to expand beyond the Southern and soul food dishes they’re known for. To start, they’ll be serving items like vegan seafood salad, fried chicken and waffles, cheesesteaks, milkshakes, and the mac and cheese that won them an award at a city-wide vegan mac and cheese competition.
The Docketts started cooking plant-based fare under the name UnSoul Food last June, though the Philly natives, who started dating in high school, have been honing their kitchen skills much longer. Natasha Dockett, now 29, says she’s been cooking since she was “extremely young” — “like 8 years old, I probably shouldn’t have been cooking that young,” she says with a laugh. “Cooking for me was always a passion.”
Bryon, 31, discovered his own love of cooking in college, switching after his freshman year to a culinary program at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
They went vegan together about six years ago, “cold turkey.” Not long after, the Docketts found themselves in a tough spot, without jobs or a place to live. “We ended up living in an RV. We were pretty much homeless. It was a tough time for us, but we still got married, spending the last of our money to buy our marriage license,” Natasha says. “Then life started changing. We found jobs and moved into an apartment. And then we decided to take things totally left field and went to Israel.”
Living on a kibbutz, a kind of collective that originally developed around farming when Israel was founded in the 1940s, the Docketts had the opportunity to work different jobs in exchange for room and board and explore the country.
When they came back to Philly a few months later, they were ready to try something new. They started blogging about food, and catering on a small scale out of their apartment under the name the Sweet Potato. As the business grew from a hobby to a full-fledged company, they moved operations into a commissary kitchen and changed the name.
Last October, they started Philly Vegan Night Market, a weekly market in Point Breeze featuring UnSoul Food and other vegan vendors. The market is on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Docketts are still getting their food to customers via online orders and drumming up interest through their MeetTheDocketts Instagram account, which now has more than 12,000 followers.
They were debating if the next step should be a food truck or a brick-and-mortar location when they connected with chef Joseph Solar, who was looking for someone to take over his lease at Greyhound Café. It felt like the right fit.
Even though there’s room for 40 diners outside the restaurant, and outdoor dining is now permitted in the current phase of Philly’s reopening during the pandemic, the Docketts plan to start with takeout only at UnSoul Food. They’ll add delivery soon after and then, once they’re settled in, in a month or so, begin outdoor dining.
It’s primarily a daytime spot, with breakfast available from 7 to 11 a.m. and lunch from noon to 6 p.m. But on Saturday evenings, they’ll serve a short dinner menu.
For the restaurant’s first Saturday, June 27, the lineup includes fried chicken, biscuits, seafood gumbo, collard greens, and candied yams. “We’ve been taking requests on social media. People want things we made for the night market,” Bryon says. “We’ll rotate it every Saturday to keep people interested, and to give us an opportunity to test out new dishes.”