NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - At age 18, East New York native Francesca Chaney turned her passion for nutrition into a business.
"My mom is a vegan," she said. "Between my family and the neighborhood, there has always been information provided to me on ways that I can better take care of myself. And that really sat with me deeply because, as I was choosing these options, I started to feel better. I started to have more energy and think better, too."
Making it her mission to share this feeling, she started Sol Sips, a pressed juice company that evolved into a Bushwick café-restaurant with a full vegan menu. Today, she has plans for further expansion.
For many locals seeking wellness, organic grocery stores and health food cafés are not an option.
"There's a disconnect because it's not in the range of affordability, realistically, for what the general income bracket is in the neighborhood," Chaney said. "And then, it's also the space itself [that] doesn't feel inclusive."
By collaborating with community organizations, she aims to create a space where all feel welcome.
"Sol Sips is really dedicated to making plant-based food accessible to everyone," she said. "We're thinking about who's coming into our restaurant, how can we serve them according to their needs."
So she developed a weekly brunch with sliding-scale pricing—a full meal costs between $7 and $15, depending on how much the customer wants to pay.
She's proud to serve a clientele that reflects the diversity of Brooklyn.
"Everybody comes to Sol Sips," she said.
Not every restaurateur is just 23 years old. She's aware of the sacrifices she's making to get her business off the ground.
"I [always] have to leave the party early, and I've come to terms with that," she said.
But she doesn't view youth as an obstacle in entrepreneurship.
"In this day and age, 2019, it just seems like it's not about age anymore. And I'm also seeing a lot of barriers being just broken down," she said. "It's just like, whatever you want to do, just do it."
For Chaney, running Sol Sips means broadening perceptions of what vegan food can be.
"I aim to correct [the misconception] that vegan food is just monolithic," she said.
Regional specialties, like the green banana tamale of her mother's native Belize, are often overlooked in the vegan category.
"We've been cooking that for years, and we didn't even know that was considered vegan," she said.
For Chaney, a vegan diet is more than a weight loss technique or a passing trend.
"Being able to touch the food that's coming from the ground, put it back into our bodies, it's a practice that is fulfilling."
Color, texture, and heat infuse dishes like a sandwich of tempeh "bacon," scrambled chickpea "egg," and sunflower seed "cheese." Hearts of palm are swapped in for seafood in the lobster mac 'n' cheese.
"With vegan food, it's all about what you bring to it. It's the absence of meat, the absence of dairy. It doesn't mean that there's the absence of spices and herbs," she said.
In addition to bold flavor, Chaney seeks to provide wholesome nourishment for energy and clarity.
"We're on this earth for such a short amount of time," she said. "While we're here, we should feel really good in our bodies."
203 Wilson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11237
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