Sunshine Vegan Eats in Buffalo, New York, has been serving up plant-based fare for more than three years, bringing all-vegan cuisine to the western part of the state, which was sorely in need of more vegan dining options.
October 20th, 2023 – Keysha “Nikki” Searles is the creative powerhouse behind this fast-casual restaurant at 893 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. Sunshine Vegan Eats — a nod to her sunny disposition — is the perfect vehicle for her to show off her considerable culinary prowess. Simply put, Searles is one amazing chef!
Bringing Sunshine Vegan Eats to Life
Searles first started in the kitchen recreating traditional meals from her favorite restaurants. With the encouragement of her friends, she tried her hand at meal prep, for about a decade. Friends and family responded favorably to her offerings and she was heartened to learn there was a market for healthy food that also tasted good.
Fast forward a few years and a lifestyle transformation proved to be more than just a dietary change.
“As I became vegan, following a plant-based lifestyle, things started to turn around for me,” said Searles. “It was then I realized that, in Buffalo, there was nowhere for me to go eat vegan. It was then I decided finally that I was going to open up the restaurant….no blueprints, no vision board, no anything.”
Call it blind faith or being at the right place at the right time. Either way, Searles was determined to bring her vision to fruition. She started pounding the pavement to scout out a possible venue for her brick-and-mortar location. The availability of a storefront and her timing aligned — and Searles opened Sunshine Vegan Eats on March 7, 2020.
Against all odds, she survived the pandemic and gained a community of supporters along the way. Searles said her saving grace has been having a robust digital presence and following. Social media platforms, and apps like Happy Cow, have helped her connect with people seeking out her kind of food.. plant-based, hearty and delicious.
Sometimes it’s chance encounters that brighten her day the most:
“This guy came in one day and he was like, ‘this was the gas station,’” she said. “And he was like, wow, this is like really great. I would have never seen anything like this in my neighborhood where I grew up.’ So people tell me all the time, ‘thank you for being here.’”
Vegan or otherwise, Searles says there’s something for everyone at her business, which she proudly notes is both vegan and black-owned. For the uninitiated, she recommends the Impossible Niyah-Vegan Steak Hoagie, affectionately named after her granddaughter. It’s plant-based meat with banana peppers, mushrooms, onions and a homemade vegan cheese sauce. You also can’t go wrong with the Buffalo “chicken” ranch sandwich — made from oyster mushrooms.
Searles is inspired by dining at other establishments and putting her own plant-based spin on the interesting dishes she spots:
“I’m a visual person,” she said. “If I see something, I can figure it out. It might take me a minute to figure it out, but I’ll get there.”
With that can-do spirit, Searles is looking to what’s next. She’s in the process of opening a second location not far from the current one. They’ve outgrown their Jefferson Street kitchen and she wants more space for experimentation and dining. Searles plans to keep some of the staples on the menu while adding new concepts, like bowls.
Stay tuned for what she dreams up next! And in the meantime, Searles invites you to #getveganwasted!
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A graduate of the University of Dayton, Lauren Caggiano is a Midwest-based copywriter, journalist, editor, and personal trainer who is passionate about championing the cause of a kinder lifestyle.