The latest microdrama to take over New York City revolves around Souen, a popular macrobiotic restaurant for health conscious New Yorkers looking to fill up on butter-free boiled vegetables.
Since moving to Soho in the 1980s from the Upper West Side, where John Lennon was allegedly a loyal patron, the restaurant has become a regular hangout for creatives and celebrities such as Patti Smith, Chloë Sevigny, Moby, and the Olsen sisters. Now, with news that the restaurant is being kicked out of its 6th Avenue location and leased to restauranteur Cobi Levy, Souen’s fans aren’t about to give up their spot without a fight.
After rumors of Souen’s closure circulated over the holidays, the hashtag #SaveSouen started to spread on social media. Since then, a Change.org petition and a GoFundMe.com page have been created in a joint effort by artist Sean Vegezzi, set designer Matt Jackson, model and interior designer Camilla Deterre, actress Eleonore Hendrix, and Audrey Gelman, co-founder of the Wing. As of Friday afternoon, almost 500 people signed the petition, and $1,400 was raised with the goal of covering legal fees and moving expenses if the restaurant decides to relocate.
“I’ve been eating at this Souen my whole life, and I want to be able to take my daughter there,” wrote stylist Catherine Newell-Hanson on the Change.org page. “It’s a unique part of the village community, and there’s nowhere else for a healthy, affordable meal.”
Others referred to it as an “institution” and a “landmark.”
In 2019, the idea that you can’t get a clean, healthy meal in New York City like the ones served at Souen seems unlikely. But its prices — $9.25 for a macro plate of of steamed vegetables, brown rice, beans, and hijiki seaweed with a dressing on the side — are low in comparison to other favorites like Sweetgreen. According to Sean Vegezzi, whose mother took him there as kid in the ‘90s, Souen also isn’t preachy or self-congratulatory about its healthy bent, which is unusual for restaurants of its kind today.
“They don’t force their ideology on anyone,” he told the Cut. “They’ve just been there. It’s a very quiet place.”
Souen’s low-key charm really seems to be what people will miss most about it. (As opposed to its food, which is admittedly fine.) You will not find any millennial pink on the premesis, or trendy dishes like avocado toast with punny names.
“It has zero vibe,” said beauty writer Julie Schott, who will eat at Souen approximately four times a week when she’s in the neighborhood. “But that’s a vibe in itself.”
The unpretentiousness of both Souen’s food and decor is ironic, considering the trendy, high-profile clientele who’ve made it their second home. “It’s a mix of old white people who look like they live in Berkeley and famous people,” Schott added. “And like, an ex or something.”
Gelman, who has been eating at the restaurant since high school, says she sat next to Nate Lowman and Mary-Kate Olsen at Souen while they broke up in 2010. “This alone should put Souen in the national register of historic places,” she added.
“It’s the most pretentious unpretentious place you can go,” said Chris Black, who’s been frequenting Souen for the last decade, and eats there around three times a week. Celebrities, models, artists, and micro-influencers can all eat their macro bowls in peace and harmony there, just as Souen originally intended. Although, “Real heads only get the macro plate with miso tahini dressing,” Black clarified.
It will come to the relief of many that co-owner Beth Powell-Saito is actively looking for another Souen space, although rents in the area are a lot higher than they were in 1981. “I feel a duty to the community,” she said. “I didn’t know that it meant so much.”
Souen has survived more than one relocation in the past. “Anything is possible,” Powell-Saito said of its future. In the meantime, the East Village location is about a 23-minute walk from Soho, or around 17 if you’re a real head.