Danielle DeLaine is on a journey to be her best self and she wants to take you with her. Enter Herban Vegans, the former pop-up that’s scheduled to open its doors in the heart of Over-the-Rhine this month. Everything on the menu is vegan, from the seafood to the “miracle mac,” one of Herban Vegans’ most popular dishes.
“We guarantee that you have not had mac and cheese this close to the real thing,” says DeLaine, the restaurant’s owner and founder. “It is nut-, soy-, and dairy-free, made in-house from scratch with our own vegan cheese.”
The seafood, meanwhile, is completely plant- and vegetable-based. Banana blossom is the main ingredient, and the flavor mimics seafood without being fishy. Dishes might be, for example, sautéed, seared, roasted, fried, or air fried, and they mock seafood’s flaky texture.
Herban Vegans is a pop-up shop at Caffe Vivace, hosting vegan brunch on the weekends. The brunches gained a following almost instantly. During last year’s lockdown, Herban Vegans developed a relationship with Findlay Kitchen, and DeLaine offered pickup and delivery from there.
“Our customer base grew every weekend,” she says. “We would sell out almost every day.”
It operated as a pop-up for more than eight months. This month (hopefully—she’s waiting on a few final inspections), it will have its own restaurant across the street from Findlay Market, thanks, in part, to Findlay Launch, a Findlay Kitchen application-based program.
“They saw our passion for what we did and our willingness to cover so much ground in such a small amount of time,” DeLaine says. The new Herban Vegans restaurant is a take-out space with outdoor seating “on a mission to bring a veganlicious pan-cultural communal food experience to the masses.”
Despite the “all vegan, all the time” menu, Herban Vegans isn’t just for those who shun meat and animal byproducts. The restaurant serves a variety of customers, DeLaine notes.
“Some [non-vegans] are just curious about veganism and come to see what it’s all about,” she says. “We have people come to us with pre-existing health conditions all the time looking for healthier food options.”
That’s how it started for DeLaine, too. Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which causes ulcers and inflammation in the digestive tract. Doctors told her it was stress-related, but DeLaine knew that couldn’t be the case.
“I knew for a fact that I was not stressed out because I was in my early ’20s, and I didn’t care about anything,” she says, laughing. “So I took it upon myself to start a food journal.”
She documented what she ate and how it affected her body and realized that meat was a problem food. She opted to treat her colitis through her diet in lieu of the doctors’ solution, which was to take nine daily steroids, in addition to two or three other medications. When she refused so many medications, two different doctors dropped her.
“When I started to make [diet] changes, I saw the benefits almost immediately,” she says. “Our body tells us everything we need to know anyway. I just took the time to pay attention.”
DeLaine was a pescatarian—someone who doesn’t eat any meat but fish—for more than 13 years before she switched to veganism five years ago. Starting Herban Vegans was, in part, a gift to herself. Now she doesn’t have to be on the journey alone. She’s created a community of people who are interested in a vegan lifestyle, too.