For an omnivore, the sight of grilled onions, bell peppers, sliced carrots, mayonnaise, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli and sweet-hot jerk sauce on a moist piece of pita bread may sound like it’s missing something: meat.
But for a vegetarian who was a regular customer at Chicago’s Vegetarian Life and Quench! restaurants in Chatham, Bronzeville and Auburn/Gresham, this is like looking through an old photo album full of my favorite photos. I almost didn’t want to eat it because I was just so happy to see it again.
Original Soul Vegetarian is widely known as Chicago's popular spot for vegetarians and vegans (and even omnivores) who crave soul food. But from 2001 to 2011, restaurateur Quentin Love also brought a flood of healthy restaurants to the South Side of Chicago.
Although those restaurants have all closed, in 2012, he did it again by bringing some of his I Love Food Groups restaurants' top recipes to Turkey Chop on the West Side of Chicago.
“Quench always had handmade burgers,” explained Love, pointing to Turkey Chop’s menu. “The Chicken Asian Stir Fry came from my restaurant Black Wok, which was the location where 5 Loaves [Breakfast Cafe] ended up. The Savory Seafood and Soulful Sides—comfort food—was from my business Soul Express. The Signature Pasta came from Italian Soul. This whole menu is a collaboration of all of those different restaurant brands merged together.”
And while his loyal Chicago customers and newbies may gladly make the trek to the Humboldt Park neighborhood where Turkey Chop is located at 3506 W. Chicago Ave., there’s an even more important reason to support Love’s latest foodie amalgamation.
And Turkey Chop has been doing this since 2013.
“Yesterday we had smothered chicken, lentils, rice and cabbage,” said Love in response to the Monday menu this week. “Some people just can’t afford to get a $15 meal or a $6 sandwich. Maybe you could spend that kind of money in a fast food restaurant, but you may be skeptical of doing so at a smaller business.
“Vegetarianism may be a little bit too advanced for the average person. But Turkey Chop gives people options outside of beef or pork. We serve whole wheat products, fresh-cut fries instead of frozen, and romaine lettuce instead of iceberg. We call Turkey Chop the transitional diet, transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. Food deserts are a problem in any Inner City, USA. We want people in African-American communities like this one to have access to a healthy meal. And if you can’t afford it, that’s OK. That’s why we serve free meals each Monday.”
When Love was asked what business advice does he wish he could’ve given his younger self to get to where he is now, he paused for awhile before saying he wouldn’t change a thing.
“If I had not lost all of my businesses and I had not done all the things I’ve done, I would not have been prompted to feed those in need,” said Love. “As a regular business person, you can become selfish and just focus on making a living for yourself and your family. I put my ego aside and realized it’s no longer about me; it’s about the people. I want the people in this community to know that someone cares about them besides immediate family. ‘Hey, that guy in that restaurant, actually cares about me. How do I know that? Because he fed me last week.’”
The Love Foundation and Turkey Chop will continue to put their food where their mouths are this coming holiday season too.
“We’re giving away 3,000 turkeys the day before Thanksgiving,” said Love. “We’re also taking donations. We can’t do this work without help. It takes an embodiment of people.”