by Scott Smith
New York native Ravi DeRossi grew up in the world of food and beverage, working in his family’s deli seven days a week, starting as a teen. After a career focusing on his first love —abstract art—didn’t quite pan out, he turned to his second love—wine. In the early 2000s DeRossi opened a small wine and cheese bar called The Bourgeois Pig near his East Village apartment that was a smash with the residents of the City’s hippest enclave.
That taste of success emboldened DeRossi to collaborate with a friend on a new venture, a stylish, speakeasy-type bar where “mixologists” served up fresh takes on classic cocktails and dazzling new concoctions of their own making. Named after a Dashiell Hammett story, Death & Company helped fuel the craft cocktail craze in New York and beyond and gave DeRossi the means to open a slew of other cocktail bars and restaurants in Manhattan as well as in Denver and Los Angeles.
“I’ve always been ambitious,” DeRossi said. “I also love to work, especially doing something I love.”
Even though his cocktail bars were wildly successful, he found himself looking for something more satisfying to his soul. “My whole life I’ve been on and off again vegan,” he said. He’d fallen off the vegan wagon and found himself drinking too much—an occupational hazard, especially when you run 16 bars and restaurants.
“I started reading about how the restaurant industry is one of the most wasteful in terms of damage caused to the environment, the animal world and to people’s health. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Around the same time, DeRossi took a leave to care for his beloved cat, Simon, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
“It felt like Simon was taking care of me more than me of him,” DeRossi said. At that moment, DeRossi decided that he would devote himself and his business to safeguarding animals. Returning to work, DeRossi transitioned all of his culinary programs to plant-based. In 2015, DeRossi opened Avant Garden, and it was an immediate success.
“Packed every night,” DeRossi said. “I did not expect that.” As the Michelin Guide exclaims, “This is excellent food that just happens to be vegan.”
More restaurants followed, to similar acclaim: Ladybird, a vegan tapas and wine bar; and Saramsam, the city’s first vegan Filipino restaurant. Then came Covid-19, which forced DeRossi to temporarily shutter his restaurants and shrink his work force from more than 300 to a handful.
“Instead of going stir crazy in our apartments, we went inward, reexamining our core values, looking at the people in our company, and thinking of things we could do ‘good’,” said DeRossi. “We were already vegan. We were already inclusive, the staff being 60% people of color and female. We didn’t do that consciously, it just was.”
That’s when DeRossi changed the name of his vegan restaurant group to Overthrow Hospitality, with a refocused mission to “advocate for the ethical treatment of all living beings— in restaurants, bars and beyond.”
He then went to three young chefs who already worked for his company, all under 30 and all women of color and told them, “We want to build a restaurant around each of you,” promising them the help and resources they needed, as well as a share in the profits if they succeeded.
He delivered last spring, opening three new vegan restaurants in the East Village: Cadence, serving American Southern/soul food from chef Shenarri Freeman; Etérea, a tequila and mescal bar specializing in Mexican food by chef Xila Caudillo; and Soda Club, a natural and organic wine bar with vegan Italian dishes by chef Amira Gharib.
“They’re doing great!” DeRossi proudly said.
The editors of Action Line agree, as you’ll see in the reviews that follow. Bon Appetit!
Chef Shenarri Freeman’s vegan remakes of Black Southern dishes from her childhood that she serves at Cadence earned her accolades from The New York Times food critic Pete Wells over the summer.
It’s a stunning feat to be put on the map like that considering the East Village eatery, which opened March 31, is the first professional kitchen Freeman has ever run and she’s just 28 years old.
When we met her in August, her humility was palpable. She was eager to tell us about another honor—her family has put her in charge of the potato salad for cookouts, family reunions and holiday meals when she’s back home in Virginia.
“And that’s a huge honor. It’s like when your family trusts you with the mac and cheese,” she says with a laugh.
Her red potato salad kickstarts the menu at Cadence. In his “critic’s pick,” Wells describes it as “unmushy, tart from chopped pickles, perfectly seasoned…the one you would hope someone will bring to the family reunion.”
All of Freeman’s dishes are interpretations of family recipes handed down through generations. I went right for the smoked grits, which salute her grandmother, nicknamed “Queen of Grits.”
They were infused with torched oyster mushrooms, rosemary butter, corn and tomato salsa and crispy garlic. It was flavorful and luxurious—the type of dish where you would lick the bowl clean if no one was looking.
The palm cake—made from chickpeas and heart of palm—was practically indistinguishable from a real crab cake. She says it celebrates her mother’s salmon cakes served at breakfast. It was served atop a chipotle aioli slaw that had just the right amount of heat.
The most unforgettable bite was the simple but savory black-eyed pea garlic pancake. The pickled mustard seeds on top delivered tiny bursts of vinegary-sweet flavor and worked well with the sage-infused maple syrup drizzled over them.
Freeman pointed out the menu, which also includes Southern fried lasagna and a buffalo oyster mushroom sandwich, is always evolving— she’s altered it four times since the opening. So, look forward to additional soulful dishes each season.
The restaurant also celebrates Blackowned wineries and offers a vegan-friendly wine list featuring two reds, two whites, and two sparkling wines. Cadence has a sophisticated vibe with its white marble counter where guests sit only a few feet away from Freeman and her team.
And then there’s the cultivated flavors of her recipes of course. But make no mistake, it’s also laidback and comforting—you leave feeling like you’ve just left one of her family’s gatherings, filled up by not only the food, but the kindness, warmth and welcoming that defines southern hospitality.—Nicole Rivard
CADENCE 122 East Seventh St. (Avenue A) 833.328.4588 overthrowhospitality.com
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