A random discussion (so it seemed) with one of my graduating high school students landed Rhonda and I with a rare find. Rare Variety Cafe that is. The vegan restaurant is located on North Main near Columbia College campus, and has been in business 6 months. The area is known for having one of the lowest per capita income in the city, and a plethora of health disparities that are of major concern in the primarily black community, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. What the business partners have done within the span of less than 4 years is remarkable indeed.
Using their own personal funds to open the restaurant, Ronnie Willingham and Keith Alexander are rarities themselves. Ronnie has been a vegan for over 22 years and an auto detailer by trade. Keith is a former 5th grade teacher turned multi social entrepreneur. Together, they not only opened Rare Variety Cafe, but are one of only 3 HUBs designated in the state of South Carolina with a special grant from the USDA to aid local farmers with distribution of their surplus fruits and vegetables to the underserved populations in the state.
With their own personal funds and money from the grant, they have been able to source produce from local farmers, and create their own garden on the premises of the restaurant. In addition, they will operate a summer feeding program supplemented with the produce from local farmers; open their own grocery store next door; and with a recent purchase of a bus, they will be able to educate and train people to set up their own community gardens. Their platform is all about "Farm to Fork"...growing your own produce, and eating it at your own table.
The pair have hired local teens to assist them in the kitchen. The teens will also have a hand in setting up community gardens all across the state. There are also personnel to help in the garden adjacent to the restaurant. The garden is loaded with a variety of herbs, tomatoes, and greens. Rhonda has taken on a consulting role with the business partners, and will aid in establishing their business strategies so that they can operate all aspects of their business seamlessly.
Oh.... and can we say the food is DELISH!! The southern fried cauliflower taste just like fried chicken. The curry-jackfruit stew is better than any pulled pork I've ever tasted. Both are pictured below. We also tasted Ronnie's newest creation, the E-Burger, which is made with chickpeas and mushrooms. We would show you a picture, but we both ate our burgers so fast, the camera couldn't keep up. Additional menu items can be seen in an image captured below. It's definitely a place to visit. You'll thank us later.
Rare Variety Cafe hours are Wednesday - Saturday, from 11:30am-8PM. They are located at 4622 N. Main in Columbia near the Columbia College campus main entrance. You'll see a beautiful mural with a picture of George Washington Carver and one of his infamous quotes "Where There Is No Vision, There Is No Hope". Parking is near the mural.
Rhonda & Sharee Washington