“You have to give the people what they want,” says Tamearra Dyson, chef owner of Oakland’s Souley Vegan.

It’s what made the single mom open a brick and mortar restaurant, from her farmer’s market stand almost five years ago, and now she wants to expand her grab and go line, to meet customer demand.

One might think it was spending ten years as an endoscopy technician at Marin General Hospital that made Dyson a vegan.

“It was a phenomenal experience, seeing what happens first-hand in the gastrointestinal tract,” she said.

Actually, her veganism goes back to when she was 17. The Berkeley native was eating a piece of chicken and “all of a sudden it just hit me that I was eating meat off a bone. It grossed me out all of a sudden.”

Much later, she learned about how animals are treated on factory farms. “It’s disgusting and heartbreaking,” she said.

She was one prerequisite shy of applying to nursing school, when she decided to launch Souley Vegan, beginning at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in 2006 with her son’s help. Her close-knit group of colleagues at Marin General thought she was crazy, especially since she was on track to become a nurse practitioner.

“I began with a lot of faith, and just believing in myself and my product,” she said. “I felt I have something to offer the community.”

For six months, she was still on call at the hospital, and would occasionally have to close up the stand, and drive the van to Marin, where she’d have to tend to someone with a bleeding ulcer.

Customers quickly told her they wanted her yams and black-eyed peas, greens and mac and cheese (“made with nutritional yeast and love,” she said) more than only one day a week.

In her Jack London Square location for almost five years now, she is supplying grab-n-go meals to Berkeley Bowl, but Whole Foods has come calling, and she doesn’t want to say no. The catch: they require such foods to be made in a separate facility.

So she’s launched a crowdfunding campaign with Higher Circle, an Oakland-based site that helps small entrepreneurs. It ends April 4.

“Tamearra and her team at Souley Vegan contribute so much positivity to the Oakland community,” said Higher Circle Founder and CEO William Silva. “She has a clear vision and she’s ready to take her business to the next level.”

Dyson is entirely self-taught, coming from a long line of excellent home cooks. And while she was raised in the Bay Area, her lineage goes back to Louisiana.

Dyson is so passionate about her product, she wants to branch out into a frozen line as well, and supply the country, and then the world.

“I think we have something to offer the market,” she said. “I strongly believe in my product. I’m for pursing your passion, whatever that may be.”




Image: The chef/owner of Souley Vegan, Dyson wants to expand her to-go offerings. Photo used with permission.