Black, Feminist, and Green: Sol Sips's Francesca Chaney Nourishes Bushwick
Upon entering Sol Sips, I am instantly gratified with a wave of refreshing nostalgia - from the faint aroma of rose water to the Caribbean decor adorning brick walls, the entire space is awash with a warm, familiar feeling of home. Francesca Chaney informs me that the vintage statues, bags, and photographs which produce this inviting state once inhabited the home of a friend’s grandmother. “[My friend] was telling me she has this exhibit in mind that pretty much highlights the grandma home experience and she had all these items at her actual grandmother’s house that she brought into here.” She scans the space thoughtfully, exuding an eased, natural glow. “It was a good cathartic and healing process.” Just visually-speaking, every detail of Sol Sips reflects the abundance of intention which nourishes this space, along with the founder’s objective to connect on a deeper level with her customers.
In a momentous period in which the Bushwick restaurant scene is oversaturated with owners neglecting the needs of native communities in the effort to cater to the neighborhood’s growing white, wealthy residents, Francesca Chaney’s work is a reminder that building a business and building a community are not mutually exclusive. Reflecting on the journey of owning Sol Sips as a permanent space for four months, she explains that her priority now is “working to fulfill the vision of Sol Sips as an all-inclusive space.” With early beginnings as a pop up in festivals, events, and brick and mortar spaces, Sol Sips captured the media’s attention this March, as news of the 21 year old Black women entrepreneur with the plant-based restaurant spread like wildfire. Though her initial plan was to continue through the pop-up phase, she admits that with her overall agenda to provide an affordable vegan meal to people once a week, owning a permanent space has been “really effective.”
Francesca’s journey with vegetarianism and wellness has early roots. At the age of 14, she first began regulating her body and emotions through a vegetarian diet. “I was just getting familiar with what’s happening in my body," she explains. "Whether I feel light or sluggish, and around that time was when I started to realize I don't like when I feel heavy or weighed down.” At 17, she moved to Purchase where she naturally grew involved with several wellness initiatives. Following her move from Purchase back to Brooklyn, one of her primary concerns was moving forward with her wellness commitments, bearing in mind that she no longer had access to the same outlets. Working two babysitting jobs and at her cousin’s Apothecary as a full-time student, she was moved to reintegrate remedies and preventive care into her daily dietary rituals. She began cooking for her family, who upon experiencing the health benefits of her revitalizing food and drinks, encouraged her to bring it to the level of business. During that time she recalls, “it was about how can I engage with the people around me through this drink, or through this food.”
With a menu boasting organically sourced food and dishes containing six ingredients or less, Francesca is plainly cognizant of the fact that Sol Sips is not accessible across all socioeconomic groups. This understanding inspired her Saturday sliding-scale brunch, with the intention that everyone could have the opportunity to experience vegan food, even if that means once a week. “It just gives people the option, that’s what it’s really about for me.” she explains. “We source organic food, it’s bound to be expensive. So we have to charge a certain price for our foods that it’s bound to exclude a lot of people. But that goes into food politics on a whole why are certain foods more expensive.” Without the excess weight of a philosophy bogged down by fantastical imaginings of a world where a vegan, organically-sourced food diet is readily accessible to folks across all lower socioeconomic groups, the core of Sol Sips’s initiative is nourishing and educating community - and Francesca puts in the work to make this a reality. Her commitment to this work extends far beyond the restaurant aspect of Sol Sips, as she can be seen providing cooking classes in hospitals and schools, where her goal is to supply a vegan meal once a week. A recently founded internship program allows Francesca to pass her wisdom down to Black and Brown students, training them to work the backends of a business. In essence, she tells me, she is simply keeping alive the cycle of entrepreneurial knowledge that was granted to her in her late teens. “I feel like it’s important to keep it rotational… I think it’s really important that Black and Latinx and indigenous people and especially women and femmes see ourselves running spaces, and to also as we can continue to support the growth of that.”
Naturally aware of the prominent media coverage that like-minded Black women in the industry have been receiving, Francesca reflects soberly on the exceptional media attention and visibility Sol Sips has experienced. Addressing the historic presence of Black women as healers and educators she says, “There’s a lot of us [in the wellness community]. I don’t think we’ve ever stopped… I think now people are really interested in normalizing that which is something important. I’m interested in normalizing it, and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of that conversation.” While some of these stories following Black women in the industry border on the line of facile laudations, Francesca addresses the reality that the work of tirelessly taking up space in an industry that has Black and Indigenous roots can be wearying before one reaps the rewards. “How draining that could be for people to actually see us as non deserving something we’ve been doing for centuries. Then having to mindfully be like, I’m going to take up space, when the room should have been provided in the first place, in general. That can be mentally draining but it’s definitely something that’s worth it, that’s important.” Aside from taking up space to bridge the wellness accessibility gap, Francesca is currently finishing her degrees in pre-health and anthropology, a daunting sum of responsibilities which requires a proactive, level mentality not yet acquired by the average 22 year old. She confesses that an average day consists of “leaving in the mornings, coming back here after class and making sure everything is taken care of, but also while I’m in class making sure everything is taken care of. What it looks like is a lot of calling the store in between classes and trying to also delegate from campus.”
Newfound privilege and a glimmering future ahead, Francesca is consciously forging new avenues for accessible community wellness. She revealed her excitement about her bottle line launch at the end of the summer, a goal of hers years long before her initial visions of Sol Sips began to come into fruition. “My vision for it is that it’ll definitely be able to make a great impact.”