A popular restaurant for plant-based, health-minded comfort food is no longer serving St. Petersburg.
On Wednesday, Ray's Vegan Soul owner and chef Ray Milton told the Times via phone that his eatery at 169 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N has shuttered. April 28 was its last day in business.
Milton said the closure came about for a couple reasons. He had outgrown the small space where Ray's Vegan Soul launched in December 2017. He wanted to expand the hours of operation, but that wasn't possible with limited square footage, and he was tired of the air conditioner, which he said had been having issues since last summer.
"I would fix it, and it would last for a while, but the problems got worse," Milton said. "I couldn't afford to put a new one in."
But there may be a silver lining for fans of Ray's Vegan Soul. Milton, a boxing instructor and former pastry chef who used to run St. Petersburg bakery Sugar Ray's, said he is in the process of finding a larger location.
He hopes to secure the new location within the next month or so and open no later than Oct. 1. It would be near his friends at Plant+Love Ice Cream in the EDGE District.
In the meantime, Milton will bring Ray's Vegan Soul, which began as a mobile venture, back to its roots by popping up at local events in the next few weeks; he expects these appearances to take place on Sundays.
The chef and owner will also keep creating new recipes — he said he has written more than 2,700 over the last seven years, and around 35 in the past two weeks — and developing his latest vegan concept. The project is another roving operation Milton believes would work with a brick-and-mortar outpost in south or north St. Petersburg.
"I want to keep it hush-hush for now," he said. "I might do a little tasting and see what people think… I got one concept already with a good following. This other one, I think it will do very well."
And what if he can't find a location and serve the community with Ray's Vegan Soul as planned? Following an offer from another friend, he said he just might expand the restaurant to Virginia.
Milton is known for using herbs and spices to work the flavorful magic typically associated with traditional soul food into his Ray's Vegan Soul dishes. Menu items at the restaurant included the signature mac and "cheese" made with cashews, African almond soup, greens, sweet potato biscuits and jackfruit "crab" cakes.
"My goal with the restaurant is when you taste the food, when you put it in your mouth, it's like a music symphony going off, where everything's in harmony with the body and the soul," Milton told the Times last year.
Hopefully, the region won't go without his melodies for too long.