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New Yorkers Mourn Souen, Beloved Boiled Food Restaurant

UNICODE

The latest micro-drama to take over New York City revolves around a beloved macrobiotic restaurant called Souen, a popular hangout for health conscious New Yorkers looking to fill up on butter-free boiled vegetables.

Since moving to Soho from the Upper West Side in the 80s, the restaurant has been a popular hangout for creatives and celebrities like Patti Smith, Chloë Sevigny, Moby, and the Oslen sisters. And now, with news that the restaurant is being kicked out and its location leased to restauranteur Cobi Levy, Souen’s patrons 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 began 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 have signed the petition, and $1,400 was raised with the goal of covering legal fees and moving expenses if the restaurant is forced 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.

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 upwards of 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 also ironic, considering the trendy, high-profile clientele it attracts. “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.”

“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, just as Souen originally intended. Although, “Real heads only get the macro plate with miso tahini dressing,” Black clarified.

Souen has survived more than one relocation in the past. As for the future, “anything is possible,” Saito said. In the meantime, the East Village location is about a 23-minute walk from Soho, or around 17 if you’re a real head.