The burger-and-wings joint may be small, but chef Samuel Woods and historian Emmanuel George have ambitious plans for their combination vegan restaurant and art space devoted to local Black history.
At 1,000 square feet, Down the Rabbit Hole will occupy a squat strip mall, at 311 NE Second Ave., in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove. It is a sequel to the Rabbit Hole, a Pompano Beach vegan restaurant where Woods turns juicy hamburgers, tender spare ribs and gooey macaroni and cheese into healthy plant-based gold.
Because half the storefront will be dedicated to history, Woods says Down the Rabbit Hole will use a smaller kitchen, serving a slimmed-down version of the flagship menu. The restaurant will function as a test kitchen for two possible spinoff franchises: Vrgr, an all-vegan burger bistro; and Wyng, which Woods describes as “a vegan Wingstop.”
“It’s unrealistic to recreate the Rabbit Hole’s menu in its entirety without me being there all the time, so we want to see how these concepts will perform first,” says Woods, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, who signed his lease in November.
Down the Rabbit Hole’s menu will feature dishes such as his Freedom Burger, an Impossible patty topped with smoked, plant-based pork belly and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese on Texas toast. There’s also the 5 Boroughs, a New York-style, chopped-cheese sandwich loaded with Impossible ground beef, onions, peppers and vegan cheese sauce inside an Amoroso hoagie. And there are boneless “wyngs,” triple-battered, seasoned, fried and tossed in one of 15 housemade sauces.
The restaurant, which they plan to debut this November, is a partnership with Woods’ and George’s new company, C.R.E.A.T.E., which stands for Cultural Renaissance Establishes A Tactical Evolution. It will share resources with George’s nonprofit Black Orchid Foundation, which has presented Tiny Desk-style concerts, called “The Chitlin Circuit,” inside South Florida’s historic Black venues.
George is also an activist and curator, and he’s dedicated to shining a spotlight on South Florida’s Black history. He has programmed Fort Lauderdale’s arts-and-film fest Sistrunk-A-Fair, and in 2020 hosted an “Ode to South Broward” exhibit, celebrating landmarks and pioneers in four of South Broward County’s historically Black neighborhoods.
“The idea of combining food and Black history really appealed to me, and seeing the great work [George] has done felt inspiring,” Woods explains. “We have an obligation to tell the history of Florida and the Black communities who haven’t had their stories told.”
George says he first visited Wood’s Rabbit Hole in Pompano Beach last year while promoting Black-owned businesses for Fort Lauderdale’s tourism bureau.
“It’s been right hand, left hand ever since,” George says, describing his like-minded kinship with Woods. “We talk every day like we’re brothers now.”
Along with vegan food, George says Down the Rabbit Hole will offer culinary classes, pop-up brunches, art history tours, author talks and poetry slams, with wall space devoted to historical photos and short-film screenings. The space will be adorned in white and smoky-gray paint, with LPs of Sade, Stevie Wonder, Tyler, the Creator and other Black musicians mounted above the restaurant’s Z-shaped counter.
George says he’s in talks to borrow artwork and photo reprints from nearby facilities such as Arts Garage, Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, Arts Warehouse and the Delray Beach Historical Society.
“We want to see them succeed,” says John Miller, with the Delray Beach Historical Society. “We’d be happy to put on loan some photographs. Delray is a gentrifying community, but veganism is growing, and I think a space like theirs is going to be welcome.”
George, who grew up in Liberia, a historically Black neighborhood in Hollywood, says a book by Kitty Oliver (“Race and Change in Hollywood, Florida”) opened his eyes to “the racial dynamics in the backyard where I grew up.”
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When Liberia’s all-Black Attucks High School closed in 1968, “there was a loss of cultural pride in South Broward,” George says. He points to desegregation as “a turning point for cultural pride” as Black-owned businesses closed shop and local neighborhoods lost their identity.
A future Rabbit Hole photo exhibit, for example, may revisit Delray Beach’s old George Washington Carver High School. When Florida desegregated its schools in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Carver closed and the all-white Seacrest High School absorbed most of the Black student body.
“With the cost of living going up everywhere in South Florida, it’s worrying because our history could be lost,” George says. “It’s a must, I feel, for Samuel and I to be that bridge to present [pioneers’] stories.”
Part of their partnership means steering the Black community to healthier, plant-based eating, says George, who was “converted” by Woods into an all-vegan diet four months ago. “This place is going to bring together culture and history and healthy eating. My life has done a 180 in the past year because of my plant-based lifestyle. We can’t sustain ourselves if we’re not putting proper food in our systems.”
Woods says his plant-based dishes allow meat-eaters to try comfort food without the radical lifestyle change to veganism.
“We have hypertension and diabetes because of the food choices in the Black community, which wasn’t by choice, but was what was available to us,” he says. “I’m making meals that break old habits and make them greener. The plan is to convert everyone with vegan wings and burgers that tear just like meat, except everything is made from plants.”
Down the Rabbit Hole, at 311 NE Second Ave., is expected to open in November 2022. For the restaurant’s menu, go to TheRabbitHole.Life.