Black Business Spotlight with Exposed Vegan
One thing about growing up Black and living in Black communities is we’re almost never exposed or have access to food/meals that give us an abundance of good nourishment. You’ll almost always see the norm usually within a 1-mile radius or 1 block radius which consists of a McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Popeyes, and if you grew up in the hood a liquor store and Chinese restaurant. Before I became a consistent runner anytime I wanted to eat out this is what my diet consisted of, lots of junk and processed food. Eventually, this led to subtle health problems which didn’t seem like much but looking back at it now it was out of hand. I have said to myself, that these health problems are just the beginning and my choice was to handle it at the beginning and attack it head-on or do the normal, what the doctor says and load up on medications to simply cover up the issue. When I started running consistently in 2016 one thing I decided to do on my journey was give up meat. Focus more on a natural plant-based diet. Little did I know the benefits that would come with it, which were pretty subtle as in my first year I suffered from no allergies, secondly the knee pains went away, and lastly, I no longer suffered from headaches. These are all benefits I had no clue about growing up so when I get a chance to speak to other vegans ESPECIALLY run by two Nubian queens it puts a smile on my face as I type this. This month we spotlight Exposed Vegan, a North Carolina vegan storefront restaurant owned by Nikkis (Kippy) and Zsa Zsa both Vegans and both runners. Let’s get exposed with Exposed Vegan!
MSM: Before we get into the very first question… I LOVE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES! Please tell me you guys can ship to the tri-state area (lol). Becoming a vegan usually comes through a decision that affects a person’s well-being in their life. What and why did both of you choose to become vegan?
Nikkis: Actually I was a Cross between Vegetarian and Vegan. While discussing business I asked my Business Partner if we were focusing on Vegan or Vegetarian. I became Vegan the same day that Zsa-Zsa confirmed that our business will be Vegan. I was raised in the South by my grandmother who never cooked processed food. Everything was from the farm to our kitchen table. In the past years, I started to focus more as I started experiencing symptoms from menopause. With research, I found natural ways such as paying more attention to the food that I put into my body to ease the symptoms.
Zsa-Zsa: I have arthritis and mildly low platelet count and it is advised to adopt a plant-based diet and eat non-inflammatory foods to minimize arthritis pain. I also noticed my energy level and bloating was all impacted by the foods I eat. After being a vegetarian for a while I finally decided to transition to a vegan lifestyle.
MSM: I love to hear the stories of the before and after effects of pre-vegan vs post vegan. For our readers, what are some of the issues and concerns each of you had, and what were the positive effects of switching to a vegan lifestyle? What were some of the things you noticed early on as well as in the long run (see what I did there, lol)?
Nikkis: Early I noticed a huge shift in my energy, positive changes in my mood, and a natural glow to my skin. Prior to my change from Vegetarian to Vegan, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Exactly one year after living a Vegan lifestyle my lab work cleared me of that diagnosis.
Zsa-Zsa: After one month I lost 6 pounds and after one year I’ve lost 12 pounds. I’m not as fatigued as I used to be but being vegan does mean I eat more often.
MSM: As a runner once I moved away from eating animals I actually found myself having more energy and pop during races and training, quicker recoveries, more energy, etc. Speaking to two Iron Man Triathletes, those types of races take more endurance than running. Do the both of you find yourselves having more energy during training and those races?
Nikkis: Definitely more energy during training and on race day. I always hated carb-loading before a race especially when they say that you should carb load all week. I find that maintaining a balance of vegetables, jasmine rice, and juices work perfect for me. Beet Juice is always a must during training and the week of a race. My old faithful banana, spinach, and peanut butter smoothie are what I usually drink after training or race.
Zsa-Zsa: When I transitioned to being vegan and researched fruits, veggies and grains and developed a nutrition plan to accompany my training plan. Though beets and leafy greens can give me the energy I didn’t necessarily want to eat them late at night.
MSM: Many of us fail to realize how much natural foods can help with the healing and recovery process. Essentially what we eat dictates how our bodies will feel during performance and training what are some of your optimal meals, your go to’s during training, racing and recovery.
Nikkis: I am currently working on changing my vegan lifestyle to raw vegan. My morning meal is a plate of raw fruit or juice. In between snacks are almonds, avocados, and juice. Lunch is usually a salad or simple steamed frozen vegetables. I love to cook when I have time, so dinner is usually something creative. My favorite Vegan Meal is PIZZA. I love colorful food so almost all of my meals are colorful.
Zsa-Zsa: I always drink a minimum of two juices a day, normally begin my morning with carrot juice, after 1st workout I have peanut butter smoothie, I eat a lot of berry/nut mix for a snack, a hearty bowl for lunch, acai bowl for another snack and loaded sweet potato for dinner. I also drink water throughout the entire day.
MSM: You’re both triathletes, take us through some of your experiences and some of the races you both have done. What are some of your favorite races and what are races that you’d both like to do? When you’re not doing endurance races are you both doing marathons?
Nikkis: I actually started out as a marathoner. I ran 37 marathons and too many to count half marathons. My ultimate goal is to complete a 100 mile ultra. I landed in the world of triathlons after countless injuries. My orthopedic surgeon suggested that I invest in a bike to give my legs a break. There is no way I will tell you that I have a favorite Ironman or Half Ironman…LOL. My favorite marathon is and will always be the Marine Corp Marathon.
Zsa-Zsa: To date, IM Arizona is my favorite when I raced with 8 other Black women. However, it was an amazing experience to be on the course of IM Maryland and take a picture with my medal and the Harriet Tubman mural. I had Harriet on my mind during the swim and the run channeling her willpower and strength. My favorite marathon is the New Orleans Rock & Roll Marathon. I enjoyed the culture and music on the course.
MSM: Let’s get exposed. Exposed Vegan was launched in 2020, in the middle of a pandemic I read that one thing that stood out to the both of you was how hard this virus hit our communities. Most folks as you mentioned simply continued to bring raise the issues and complain about them. It takes an entirely different mentality to actually get up to do something about it and you both did just that. What was the breaking point for both of you where you said okay it’s time to get up and make a difference in our community?
Nikkis: I will have to say that Zsa-Zsa is the brain behind the start of the business so this question should be all hers.
Zsa-Zsa: The beginning of the pandemic was tough for so many. I had several friends and family members reach out asking for help preparing meals while homeschooling, asking for recipes when I posted my meal prep for my family. Then I lost several friends and family members to chronic illnesses that were heightened by the virus. This is when I asked Nikkis to partner with me. Though we are not physicians we both love to cook and share our recipes with our people. So many of US are suffering from preventable diseases and just don’t know the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. It was time to Expose it!
MSM: One thing for sure that I can say is that Covid and the lockdown forced us all to be creative and to do things we wouldn’t normally have been able to do in normal times. Being able to launch a business while in a pandemic is a feat within itself. How was this process for the both of you? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Nikkis: One of our challenges was learning the rules and regulations of working in the food industry. Neither one of us had experience in the process of preparing food per the guidelines required nor the correct way of cleaning the equipment and utensils that we used. At the same time, Covid changed the overall food industry.
Zsa-Zsa: Going from corporate America to a restaurant owner continues to be a challenge. From nutrition licensing and inspections to store maintenance to new covid regulations. The restaurant industry has taken a hit which makes this endeavor more complex and challenging. We are trying our best to get the word out in the local community which hasn’t been easy.
MSM: One of the cool things about Exposed Vegan is the menu as it offers a range of items for customers to try. With the both of you having vegan backgrounds, were some of your favorite recipes that were added to the menu? What are some of your favs and what would you recommend to our readers to try if we ever stop for a visit?
Nikkis: We will almost always say that our hands down favorite is JASON’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!!!! I would say try the sweet potatoes and our detox juices but never leave without one of Jason’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Zsa-Zsa: My newest obsessions are the tropical acai bowl and the savory sweet potato.
MSM: Creating change is a tedious and very long process as building new habits in our community comes with lots of challenges and informal information especially when it comes to vegan lifestyles. With a storefront, do you find yourselves constantly educating customers about the benefits of having a vegan lifestyle? Have you ever had customers that have made the change after meeting both of you?
Nikkis: Customers come in more than often with tons of questions about the vegan lifestyle. We often answer questions while in the store and always refer them to our Facebook Group “Exposing Vegan Myths” where we support one another and share recipes that we have tried or plan to try.
Zsa-Zsa: We get questions daily or we’re informed of a report from their doctor. After being open several months we’ve had several customers share lifestyle changes and sometimes go into detail about how their body is changing and responding to a plant-based lifestyle.
MSM: There’s a misconception that protein only comes from meat that we must eat, that a vegan lifestyle diet doesn’t allow us to have optimal performance. Through my experience, this is one of the largest myths out there which for me has led to some very exhaustive disagreements. What are some instances where you’ve found yourself debunking these myths to customers and people you’ve known?
Nikkis: I don’t, meaning I don’t debate anyone on where my protein comes from. Most times you can tell if someone wants to be educated or get into a debate on vegan lifestyle and protein.
Zsa-Zsa: I often share insights on how leafy greens and nuts provide protein. I’ve helped customers google vegan protein options because they weren’t aware you can get protein outside of meat. They are always pleasantly surprised.
MSM: Being a runner and Triathlete I’m sure gives both of you a sense of determination. Whatever you start you must follow through and finish. How has this helped you with the early successes of Exposed Vegan?
Nikkis: There is a balance between Zsa-Zsa and I. She is organized in business and planning where I am a free spirit that finds myself constantly asking her the same thing over and over again…LOL. One thing in common is that we will never give up. Our wheels are constantly turning on ways to improve in business and improve in life. Which is definitely our mentality throughout our training.
Zsa-Zsa: Though we started this journey with so many unknowns we were determined to figure it out. We both share that mental toughness and determination.
MSM: Exposed Vegan also exposes the community to a healthy lifestyle through being active as you ladies have hosted a variety of group runs within the community. For folks that are interested, where can people meet up for the group runs?
Zsa-Zsa: I am also a Black Girls Run Ambassador. I partner with the organization to lead runs from the store and encourage the community to join us. We meet Saturday mornings at 9 am. As it gets warmer we’ll meet earlier. We keep the information on our website.
MSM: Success and growth only happens if you’re constantly thinking countless steps ahead. Even though Exposed Vegan is still fairly new what are the chances we see EV branching out to multiple locations?
Nikkis: One of our goals is to purchase a food truck and show up as a vendor at various races.
MSM: What’s on the horizon for Exposed Vegan, how can our readers keep in touch and if possible order some freshly squeezed juices?
Nikkis: Right now we are working to make sure that we provide quality food and juices with fresh ingredients. In the future, we are looking to ship our juices throughout the US. At the moment those that are local or visiting the Charlotte, NC area can pre-order on our website at www.exposedvegan.com
Or order in person
1540 West Blvd, Suite 102, Charlotte NC
MSM: Before we get to the last question I most definitely need some of those vegan chocolate chip cookies (lol).
Nikkis: We will definitely look into how we can ship you some cookies. They are definitely addictive.
MSM: Any last words for our readers that you’d like to share?
Nikkis: Although we are currently unable to provide service outside of the Charlotte area there are still ways to show support as some of you have already shown. Go to our website at www.exposedvegan.com and subscribe to our page. Follow us on FaceBook at Exposed Vegan and on Instagram @expvegan. We are working on ways to serve outside of our area so stay tuned. We definitely appreciate all the love and support that we have received so far. Remember HEALTH IS WEALTH
MSM: From Team Mid Strike to you we wish you nothing but the best and continued success.
Nikkis: Thank you for featuring us in your magazine and providing our community with a platform.
Zsa-Zsa: Thank you so much for helping us share our story.