Eating...Our Words has embarked on a project to profile 100 Houston culinarians of all fields, practices, careers and backgrounds. This isn't a Best of Houston® list, it's not a 100 Favorites list and it's not in any particular order. Instead, the Eating Our Words 100 is a way to introduce our readers to some of the most notable people behind Houston's exciting and deep-rooted culinary culture. Twice a week, we'll explore a new culinarian's work, his or her inspiration and what makes Houston a perfect home.
What she does: "I own a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free restaurant, which is sort of a little dive on the near north side that we like to think pumps out really great food. We sort of cater to people that are looking for a healthier alternative, and also just people looking for something different," Staci Davis, owner of Radical Eats, explains.
"We like to have fun with it," Davis continues. She believes that vegetables are vastly underused. And she is not a fan of fake meat. So, rather than put out imitation meat products made from vegetables, Radical Eats' menu makes fresh, locally sourced vegetables the protagonists on the menu.
Prior to opening her storefront, which has now been going for "just under 20 months," Staci did farmers' markets, weddings and catering for about four years, as well as sold some food products at Antidote and Blackhole. She opened Radical Eats because she needed a new "home" in which to create all of the products she was selling all around town. Since opening the restaurant, Staci has been getting "busier and busier and busier," so she had to "let some of the other stuff go," but that's not to say that she wouldn't like to go back to her roots and sell all around Houston.
Why she enjoys it: As far as why she got into and enjoys the food aspect of her business, Davis has been a chef since she was 17, and she's always loved it. Every time she goes to a party, she always ends up in the kitchen. She likes working in kitchens -- "the camaraderie, the speed, the creativity. I've been doing it for a long time. I've always liked vegetarian food. I've always liked playing with vegetables. It's just something I was good at. Another thing is that I always wanted to get some products in the grocery store. All the fake meats never fit the categories that I wanted. I wanted specific things and I wanted to fulfill what I thought was a need," Davis says. Davis created a large part of Radical Eats' Mexican-inspired menu.
Why she enjoys owning her own business? "I like the people that I work with --they're all kind of nuts. And it's just fun solving problems and seeing it work. It also just makes me feel like a grown-up. I like the customers; I like telling them jokes. It's fun. It's just like family."
Thinking that Radical Eats would be one of those restaurants that cater to a super small niche audience, I asked Staci what her customers are like, to which she responded enthusiastically, "They're all over the map. I have everything from Christian fundamentalists to anarchist punk rockers and all ages -- even 12-year-old kids that come in by request to celebrate their birthdays because they are vegetarians and all live in Pasadena. You've also got old men that have been eating meat and dairy all their lives and have had some doctor or health professional tell them that they really need to start figuring out how to eat differently -- they'll come in. Black, white, brown -- everything. We maybe sway a little bit more toward some of the neighborhood people, but really, it's all over the map."
What inspires her: Davis lists several different things: "The farmers' market. Vegetables. The farmers that grow it all. The weird stuff. Pictures of food. Food. The stuff that grows out of the ground. Politics inspires me, too. I try as much as I can to support local farmers and stay away from big agriculture, although a lot of it is unavoidable. To me, it's all about global warming and the way that we're polluting our environment. A vegetarian diet can sustain a lot more people than a meat-eating diet. It's important for me to convince people to eat more vegetables -- it's better for their health. When people eat the regular American diet, they are broken down and unhealthy."
If not this, then what: "I would probably be a reporter for Democracy Now! traveling all over the world to all of the hot spots and reporting from there. Or I would go back to doing radio. I used to do political satire -- telling jokes on the radio."
What's next: "We just got our gluten-free tamales in the Katy and Sugar Land Whole Foods, which is really exciting. We're looking at packaging right now -- something that is environmentally friendly."
Davis is also close to opening a new restaurant, though she's not ready to share many details other than the fact that she'll be serving meat there (all locally sourced) and the restaurant will have a bar. She says that she'll really have to grow up as a restaurateur, as Radical Eats is very small and has been like "kindergarten."
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The Eating...Our Words 100:
- Philippe Verpiand, Owner and Chef at Etoile Cuisine et Bar - Tyler Horne, Market Manager at Urban Harvest Farmers Market - Stephanie Earthman Baird, Bringing Wine to Cowboys - Yilmaz "Jim" and Deanna Dokuyucu, Husband-and-Wife Owners of Turquoise Grill - Dan Tidwell of Treebeards on Downtown Houston's Past, Present and Future - Kiran Verma, Executive Chef and Owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar - Catherine Rodriguez, Pastry Chef at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa - Jody Stevens, Owner and Cake Designer of jodycakes - Bobby Heugel, Owner of Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant and OKRA's Charity Saloon - Renatta Lindsey, The Taste Contestant and Houston Home Cook - Enrique Bravo of Pollo Bravo on How Selling Chicken Helped Him Realize His American Dream - Sean Beck, Sommelier Extraordinaire - Brooksy Smith, Owner of JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers - Minh Nguyen, Owner of Cafe TH and One of Houston's Best Front-of-House Personalities - Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op - Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef - James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger - Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation - Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's - Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro - Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas - Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger - Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's - Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor - Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata - Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers - Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile - Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House