Swept up in protests against the police violence that touched his own family, then finding a new way forward.
By Louis Hunter as told to Amber Gibson
Louis Hunter is chef-owner of Minneapolis’ Trio Plant-Based—Minnesota’s first Black-owned plant-based restaurant. Hunter started eating vegan after he was arrested and accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the police in 2016, while attending a protest after his cousin Philando Castile was killed by a police officer.
Three years ago I had not a clue about plant-based diets, vegan food, nothing. This all occurred when I got arrested. Me going through that case actually changed my life to a better way of eating.
It’s a blessing to know how to nurture your body the right way. I really thank the people who introduced me to plant-based eating—Sarah and Dan Woodcock, my former co-owners. They helped me fight the charges I was facing. And they had been eating vegan for years. She took me to a restaurant with vegan options, and I was thinking the food was actually okay, but it was bland. No seasoning and no flavor. I could find so many ways of bringing out flavor in that kind of food.
I was going to do a food truck during the Super Bowl to get back on my feet, to get some extra money, but it ended up falling through. Sarah suggested opening a vegan food truck. I said I would love to do it, but it would need to have some seasoning. I gave her my family recipes, and we made vegan substitutions. I couldn’t believe it was that easy.
Our first pop-up, we did cheeseburgers and root beer floats, and we did pretty good. Then I thought about my favorite soul food items—collard greens, yams, cornbread, and whatever meat you want to choose, and macaroni and cheese. We dove right into it and we had a line out the door that day. So we decided to do that same pop-up again, and we tripled our batch and sold all that out too. That’s when we knew we were really on to something.
I had never worked in restaurants, just cooking around the house with my family. We always had to participate and learn those things. As a man in the family you had to learn it, in case you were single and you had to cook your own food.
At first my clientele at Trio was predominantly white. I didn’t see Black people for a while. But when I became full owner, I remember one day walking into my restaurant and it was full of Black people. Not one white person in my restaurant. I remember taking pictures that day. That’s when I knew my community was getting involved in what I was doing. Now my customer ratio is about half and half.
Right now we are pick-up and delivery only, but business is amazing. I would never have thought in my wildest dreams I’d be in the middle of a pandemic but doing good. It’s a blessing. God is good. It seems like ever since I passed out those 300 meals in early June to protesters, with that taste of our food, sales have been up. The community support has been mind-blowing.
People do need to start practicing a plant-based diet, to start nurturing their bodies. You can go home and make your own greens and yams. That’s what I tell people. It’s like you do exercises. Come get a meal a day, or a couple times a week, where you can start nurturing your body. Once you put plant-based food in your body, it starts nurturing you. Your stomach might go through a transition because it’s cleansing you. I remember when I went through that—I was like, oh I don’t want vegan food no more because it hurts my stomach. But it’s really a cleanse.
In three years, I’ve gotten so close to plant-based food that it’s crazy. I never thought I’d be this close to being full vegan. I feel and move so much better. Before all this, I’d been shot and I had a bad back. I could never sit here with the posture that I have right now. It hurt so bad. Now I changed my eating habits and I’m able to stretch and move more. I can run and it doesn’t hurt. I just feel good. God is amazing. He knew what I needed all the way around.
I’m changing a lot of lifestyles. My kids eat plant-based foods now, and my grandmother too. My brothers in the neighborhood and out in the streets, they’re eating plant-based foods now, and they’re loving it. It’s a whole other life. People are loving it once they start tasting it. We aim to please your taste buds. We want you to come to Trio and be able to eat a comfortable meal that you would enjoy in your own home. Like a mac and cheese, or a classic double cheeseburger. We have all that but plant-based, and you’ll be licking your fingers by the time you leave. We make our own sour cream, ranch, and barbecue sauces. If we don’t have your taste buds jumping, then we aren’t doing what we’re supposed to do.
Don’t put the pressure on worrying about quitting meat and being full vegan or plant-based. Practice it like you would go to the gym. Keep on practicing it. Plant-based is my life, although I’m willing to cheat on it sometimes. Seafood is the hardest for me to give up.
I say again and again that I didn’t choose my path. God did. I’m just walking the path and doing the work of what He’s telling me to do. To me, it’s all love. I can’t grip how we are here. Four years ago, even last year, I couldn’t imagine my life where it is now. I’m so grateful for the followers, the supporters, the customers. It just makes me really feel that God has so many walking angels to support you in a time in need.