R&B Legend Turned Strick Vegetarian – Edwin Birdsong’s Veggietaria

By Mustafa Moiz

What do R&B legends do after they’ve taken their last steps on the trail of stardom? If the restaurant business wasn’t your first guess, don’t let it eat you up; it certainly wasn’t mine. This seemed to be the case with Birdsong’s Veggietaria, a cozy vegetarian joint at the heart of Los Angeles’ Fashion District.

Edwin Birdsong is a name that has seen the top rungs of the hot hit charts in the 70’s and early 80’s, and achieved vast critical renown, and is still recognized today by rhythm and blues fans from the Big Apple to the West Coast. Birdsong was a dark horse in the funk/disco era, ever in the shadow of contemporaries he collaborated with such as Bob Marley and the late Prince of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, but his experimental tunes paved the road for future generations of funk and electronic musicians. He won two Grammy Awards for his joint effort with hip-hop artist Kanye West and another two for his work with electronic phenomenon Daft Punk. What then is a man of his talents doing running an eatery?

“Food and music really go together, because you need both for life. You must have music because it makes our lives much more pleasurable. You must have food, because it keeps you alive. I gave the people great music and now I want to give them great food,” Birdsong gave in response. “America is just now realizing the importance of having good, healthy food; I’m trying to help people realize that. I contend that we can be carnivorous and eat flesh, but we are really vegetarians at heart.”

The cafeteria-style restaurant had its grand opening only recently, in July of last year.
The menu is partly vegan and entirely vegetarian, and consists of a host of “fake meat” entrees, a number of classic vegetarian sides and a unique array of elixirs, hand-made and designed by the owner himself.

The transition from music to food is no easy task, though. Birdsong commented on the difficulty of starting out, “I haven’t owned a restaurant before and it might have been a mistake, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve learned to work harder than I have for the rest of my life. The music came easy, but the food is more intensive.” Even so, he says he enjoys the labor. “It’s a love. I love the fact that I have been given this opportunity. I’ve been vegetarian for forty years and I want to turn people onto it.”

The restaurant is quaint and relatively quiet, with a nice view of the street and a few tables for dining in, though take-out is a readily available option, as well. WiFi access is free, which was made abundantly clear by the number of open laptops lining the tabletops, and this could be a prospective alternative to the now commonplace and overcrowded coffee shop. Décor is minimal but comfortable and is complemented by a host of photos of Birdsong’s musical inspirations and contemporaries. Posted on the wall are framed pictures of Birdsong with Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Muhammad Ali, to name but a few.

Since its opening less than a year ago, plenty of notables have made appearances at Birdsong’s Veggietaria. For those interested in snapping a pic with a celebrity or two, this isn’t a bad place to start. According to a little bird, Stevie Wonder is said to frequent the joint.

Even so, the Veggietaria is a great hole-in-the-wall type. It didn’t turn up when searching for “vegetarian” or “9th and Spring Street”, nor does it appear on any major online map. Stumbling unexpectedly into this place is just about the only way to know it exists in the middle of the burgeoning 9th Street food hub, unless you know it’s there already. As of now, the restaurant is in its fledgling stage, though street cred has done it more than justice. Reputation and popularity take time to build in any pursuit; this is especially true in the food industry.

When asked about the future of his new enterprise, Birdsong replied, “I see [being] able to have several of these Veggietarias, hopefully, to get them into a couple of the stadiums, like basketball and football. I would like to be able to offer this cuisine to the masses, so that children, when they’re watching someone play also have the opportunity to have something healthy and not just the hot dog or the hamburgers or the greasy fries. That’s what I see.”