CLEVELAND — Born and raised in Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, Chaundrea Simmons' career as a vegan chef has been filled with unique and unconventional terms, but her passion for cooking started at a young age.
"I have been vegetarian since high school," Simmons says. "I just remember telling my mom one day, like, 'I want to stop eating meat,' and she's like, 'I don't know what you're going to do, because we're we are a meat family!' So, I've been cooking for myself for a long time."
Simmons adopted a fully vegan diet shortly after completing grad school at Ohio University, and says she started cooking for clients as a side hustle.
"In between jobs, I started to cook for people, delivering to people," she told us. "That's really how it got started. I just was, like, 'Let me just try to see what this will look like,' and I haven't had a job since."
Simmons' path toward operating her own vegan restaurant wasn't always straightforward: She started with some unique and strategic partnerships
"I wanted to open up a vegan restaurant on St. Clair," she recalled, "but COVID happened, so [plans changed] ... I work with local businesses that don't have a kitchen, and I say, 'Look, how would you feel if we got 12 people in here and I cooked them a four course meal and we used your beer or your wine?'"
The business model quickly took off, and Simmons found partnerships with meaderies, coffee shops, and bars.
"We use [their] product as the beverage of choice," she explained. "We're able to have people that would have never come into [their] space otherwise."
Through those intimate dining experiences Chaundrea saw how her events could bring people together.
"Strangers that don't know me — they just found it on Eventbrite or they've seen it in Scene magazine," Simmons explained. "They come and I can see that they're a little hesitant, they don't know where they want to sit, but then as the courses progress and as the mimosas flow, you can hear the sound raise, you can hear more laughs.
"People come a little hesitant and then they leave friends, they leave wanting to come back."
Inspired by the success of her intimate dining experiences, Chaundrea changed the model of what her restaurant could be, and soon, a familiar building on Cleveland's west side became the perfect location to take that next step.
"I started to look for spaces that I could have a kitchen and that I could have a restaurant," she said. "I actually lived here for a year, and I'm just like, 'I'm going to turn this space into what I wanted to.'"
That home is now a beacon for expanding those intimate dining events Chaundrea is now known for. The converted residence is now, "The Vegan House," both figuratively and literally.
"The reason it's called The Vegan House is because when I moved in, I was the first occupant, and so everything is new," she noted. "There hasn't been any meat cooked in this space, anything that has milk or anything, so I'm just like, 'This is a vegan house — it's The Vegan House!'"
For more information and to stay informed about upcoming events, follow @veganhouserules on Instagram.