a crab with blue legs on the concrete outdoors
October 22, 2022

Chef/Owner Kina Bullock overcomes pandemic and natural disasters

Soule' Cafe's Kina Dache Bullock

Kina Bullock’s ability to do “anything and everything” at Soule’ Cafe helped her survive some of New Orleans’ greatest challenges over the last few years, including opening her restaurant just two months before the Covid pandemic hit.

“I learned that whatever might go wrong, will,” Kina says after experiencing a completely unprecedented event that left many seasoned restaurateurs scrambling.

Since then, she’s faced staffing shortages, jumped through hoops to self-finance her business, and navigated the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida and the March 2022 Arabi tornado. Fresh to the restaurant scene, Kina learned many early lessons the hard way, but they’ve only made her stronger and more adaptable.

At Soule' Cafe, there is plenty on the menu for vegan guests,
& items like Kina's honey smoked roasted chicken wings with
sweet sticky spicy Treme sauce for their friends.

“I didn’t think it was that far-fetched,” says Kina of her decision to transition from the retail music industry to the New Orleans restaurant scene. Kina, a Chicago native who moved to New Orleans six years ago, always loved food, and her desire for more plant-based comfort options left her wanting something hard to find.

This inspired Soule’ Cafe’s concept of “vegans and friends,” with vegan takes on local staples like gumbo, red beans and rice, and fried green tomatoes. Plus, other diners will find plenty of non-vegan items to choose from.

The concept seemed like a great fit for a neighborhood spot where her new community could gather. So what happens when a global pandemic forces the city to completely shut down?

“We cried, we prayed and we called everyone to let them know we were still open,” Kina says. “I was new to the restaurant business but I knew that I had to put myself out there, and figure out what I could to open my doors and keep paying my staff.”

Chefs Brigade turned out to be the solution Kina was searching for.  Soule’ was an early brigade member, and when the New Orleans Covid meal assistance program began, Kina and her staff were helping to produce daily meals for the more than 24,000 people who were enrolled in the program. Kina even became a face of the program, but more importantly, she kept the doors of Soule’ Cafe open and paid her staff.

Kina’s efforts were successful enough that she was able to open a second location in Arabi, only to be hit with a record-breaking tornado and other issues. Staffing, just as it has been for many restaurants, has been difficult,  and Kina has stepped up to fill nearly every role in the restaurant at one time or another.

“I can cook everything on the menu, and I even do the dishes,” Kina says.”Keeping staff has to be a priority for any restaurateur.”

She has become creative to stay afloat, adding hookah, steak nights, gameday brunches, and taco nights to keep both vegans and their friends full of flavorful food and in-house entertainment. She’s also ventured into the festival scene, debuting at Essence Fest, Bayou Boogaloo, Gentilly Fest, and most recently, Fried Chicken Festival.

“I like festivals because I can reach both locals and out-of-towners to spread the word,” Kina says. “I want to reach everyone I can to share my love for plant-based food and the community we’re creating here. And that’s good advice for any new restaurateur, keep moving and letting people know about you.”

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