Michigan State Chef Reinvents Comfort Food at Vegan Restaurant in Lansing

LANSING — Kari Magee went vegan three years ago.

Adapting recipes and getting creative with vegetables, fruits and other vegan ingredients was easy for Michigan State University executive chef Magee.

Eat outside as a vegan was not.

“It was always a matter of mind every time you went out to eat, like planning ahead,” Magee said.

“Hey, we can go to this restaurant and we can modify this one or this restaurant has a vegan option so we’re good there,” she said to whom she was going.

In Greater Lansing, vegan options are rare, Magee said, “I tended to go to places that offered those options.”

Veg Head, the vegan restaurant she’s teaming up to open in downtown Lansing with Midtown Brewing Company partner and real estate developer Shawn Elliott, will offer a full vegan menu.

The menu is still in development, but Magee aims to reinvent comfort classics, like burgers, nachos and tacos, with vegan ingredients.

What will it look like? Think banana flower fish and chips, hibiscus tacos and “oyster mushrooms that taste like fried chicken,” Magee said.

Veg Head’s offerings will satisfy everyone’s taste buds, even meat-eating diners, in a 3,000 square foot space inside a 132-year-old building with a remarkable history.

“Our slogan is that it’s okay to eat well,” Magee said.

Occupy a historic space

The space at 208 S. Washington Ave. has been vacant for a year, said Elliott, who bought the building, built in 1890, two years ago.

Known as the Ranney Building, it is named after its original owner, Dr. George E. Ranney, a public health advocate who bequeathed the land that became Ranney Park to the city.

Chef Kari Magee pictured Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at her upcoming Veg Head restaurant on Washington Square in downtown Lansing.  Magee plans to open this fall.

Elliott said he paid close attention to historic details and the building’s story when working to renovate it.

When Veg Head opens later this summer, the restaurant’s design will feature exposed brickwork, high ceilings, earth tones and a “neutral palette”, he said.

Magee’s food will be at the heart of the business.

“His passion for this food is contagious,” Elliott said. “It’s in her DNA. After two meetings with her, I thought she was the perfect match for me and we had the building available.”

Harissa Carrots on a Bed of Black Rice with Lemon Garlic Sauce, a dish created by Lansing resident and chef Kari Magee.  Magee partners with Shawn Elliott to open Veg Head, a vegan restaurant, in downtown Lansing.

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The restaurant should open this summer

Going vegan opened the creative floodgates for Magee, who was already creating vegan dishes for MSU when she adopted the diet herself.

The trick, she said, has always been to showcase vegetables and fruit in dishes that taste wonderful without using meat.

Charred Watermelon Steak on Endive, one of the recent dishes created by Lansing resident and chef Kari Magee.  Magee partners with Shawn Elliott to open Veg Head, a vegan restaurant, in downtown Lansing.

“Then it’s also about creating whatever you can out of that vegetable or that fruit,” Magee said. “Kind of manipulating the vegetable into something you know, maybe as a meat eater or not, that tastes just as delicious.”

Veg Head offers a chance to bring this kind of dishes to foodies in Lansing, and she promises that even those who aren’t vegan will love the menu.

“Having a platform to be able to express how delicious and beautiful fruits, vegetables and grains are is a dream come true,” Magee said.

Veg Head will likely provide seating for around 45 people, she said, and an outdoor patio is also possible. Elliott and Magee are pursuing a liquor license, she said.

The restaurant will employ approximately 25 people.

Elliott hopes to open in early July.

Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.

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