By Guy D’Astolfo
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Meeluvh Iman became a vegan six years ago and her mother, Ruqayya Jaaber-Douglas, made the switch last year.
Now they are teaming up to offer the healthy food to other vegans and convert a few carnivores as well.
Iman and Jaaber-Douglas opened Cosmic Kitchen, a vegan restaurant, in January. The small eatery at 2838 Mahoning Ave. offers fresh-made wraps, soups, salads, sea moss smoothies, sandwiches and entrees made from vegetable, grain, rice and other animal-free ingredients, all prepared with natural flavorings.
Iman buys much of her greens, produce and mushrooms from local farmers.
In creating their dishes, Iman and Jaaber-Douglas want to appeal to meat-eaters who are curious enough about vegan food to give it a try. They strive to give their food the look, flavor and textures of traditional comfort foods.
“It’s stuff that transitional vegans crave once they leave meat,” Iman says. Grains, wild rice, quinoa and vegetables form the meat substitutes.
The restaurant also uses only pink Himalayan sea salt and sweeteners such as agave, Iman says. Refined sugar is never used.
Jaaber-Douglas is the head chef and kitchen manager. A seasoned cook with decades of restaurant experience, her goal is to create food that is hearty and satisfying.
“If you’re trying to bring people in to try vegan food who are used to heartier foods, it’s hard to take them to a salad,” she says. “You have to wean them in.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native says she has “veganized” chicken, ribs and roasts, and is currently experimenting with vegan crab legs.
“I can make a vegan chili just as good as a regular one,” she says. “People can’t tell the difference.”
While acknowledging that presentation is important, taste is how you convert them, she says.
The launching of Cosmic Kitchen began with Iman, who got into holistic health in 2015, making natural oils and remedies. Eating is a big part of holistic wellness, so she adopted a vegan diet.
The Boardman High School graduate opened her first business, Secret Garden, in 2018, making all-natural remedies, candles, soaps and lotions. The items can be purchased at her Jewels and More store, just down the street from Cosmic Kitchen at 2016 Mahoning Ave. A few Secret Garden items are also available at the restaurant.
She was inspired to open Cosmic Kitchen because there are few vegan restaurants in the Youngstown area and she wanted to bring the option to the inner city. Customer reaction has been swift and strong; Iman says she was surprised at the rush of business she got from the start.
Because of the pandemic, most sales are for takeout. But the small shop has a comfortable new-age vibe that entices some to dine in.
Vegan food and natural items are “the future,” Iman says, and a glance around the west side neighborhood seems to bear that out. Iman’s building, which previously housed a hot dog shop, sits next to Evolve organic convenience store.
Iman’s mother, Jaaber-Douglas, says her motivation for going vegan was to improve her health – and it has worked dramatically.
Making the switch to vegan was “a fight,” she says. “I enjoy all the good foods, but once I entered the lifestyle… my blood pressure dropped from 225 to 120 and I lost 40 pounds. I am truly a living witness that it is a good lifestyle if you want to better your health.”
The most popular item for carnivores dabbling in vegan food for the first time is the Cosmic Burger, which Jaaber-Douglas created specifically to appeal to meat lovers.
“It’s soybean-based but I enrich it with a lot of vegetables,” she says. “When you bite into it, you have the taste and feel of meat.”
She tops it with a secret sauce that adds some “razzle-dazzle,” she says.
Iman says the Cosmic Burger is so popular that “it’s usually sold out by 4 o’clock each day.”
Cosmic Kitchen is open Monday through Saturday from 11:11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with plans to expand hours in the spring.
Why does it open at 11:11? “I’m into numerology and that number represents new beginnings and things coming into alignment,” Iman says.
Pictured at top: Co-owners Meeluvh Iman and Ruqayya Jaaber-Douglas.
Copyright 2021, AfterHoursYoungstown, Youngstown, Ohio.
Posted Feb. 23, 2021.