How KFC’s Missed Opportunity Inspired Atlanta’s First Vegan Chicken Wing Shop

International fast-food chain KFC made headlines in 2019 when it launched its first plant-based chicken in partnership with Beyond Meat. The limited-time promotion, which features vegan nuggets and wings, took place at a single location in Atlanta and sold out in just five hours.

Despite a larger, limited-time nationwide launch last year, the chain has yet to reintroduce vegan chicken as a permanent menu item in Atlanta or anywhere else in the country. In Atlanta, there’s an entrepreneur satisfying cravings for vegan chicken wings.

Last summer, entrepreneur N’namdi Arinze launched Vegan Wangs, Atlanta’s first black-owned, plant-based chicken wing restaurant. “Growing up vegan, I feel, gives me an edge,” Arinze told VeganNews. “[I know] What vegetarian food should taste like.”

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The restaurant, which currently operates out of a ghost kitchen, specializes in vegan, soy-free chicken wings in flavors such as Buffalo, Thai Sweet Chili, Bar-B-Que, Spicy Jerk and Mango Habanero. Plant-based chicken sandwiches and oyster mushroom chicken fingers are also up for grabs alongside a selection of French fries; salad; and a silky, cashew-based strawberry cheesecake.

Customers can get a taste of Vegan Wang through food delivery platforms Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub, or by ordering directly through the Vegan Wang website.

Vegan Chicken Wings Touchdown in Atlanta

After noticing a lack of readily available, soy-free vegan chicken wings, Arinze got to work. The entrepreneur perfected his menu after receiving customer feedback during the pop-up.

“I started doing pop-ups at a popular health food store and juice bar in Atlanta’s West End, which allowed for honest customer feedback,” says Arinze. And the feedback has been consistently positive.

“The response was and has been very welcoming ever since [and] Overwhelming,” he says. “We have customers who have ordered twice in one day for consecutive days. I believe chicken wings are one item that many vegetarians and vegan converts have not made peace with. [having to] Give up—that’s when vegan wongs come in handy.”

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Arinz’s vegan upbringing, in addition to making her classmates curious about her tofu sandwiches at lunch, made her acutely aware of the few institutions required for a plant-based diet and the creativity required in the kitchen. “Being vegetarian limited the number of establishments I could eat at,” says Arinze. “It was about being creative, which my mom was great at.”

Beyond its ghost kitchen, the restaurant’s vegetarian wings may come to grocery stores and other restaurants in the future as Arinze sets his sights on expanding into retail and food service. And Arinze is already thinking beyond Atlanta, with a long-term goal of expanding into Brooklyn, where he lived for three years and identified as an ideal market.

Atlanta’s Vegan Food Scene

In addition to Vegan Wang, Atlanta’s vegan food scene has grown in recent years with innovative businesses. In 2019, Atlantans welcomed plant-based pizza—the city’s first vegetarian pizzeria. In 2020, Chi Chi Vegan opened as Atlanta’s first plant-based taqueria.

This spring, the city will also welcome its first plant-based creamery. Set to open March 25, the creamy spot will serve dairy-free frozen desserts like vegan soft serve, ice cream sandwiches and pints among rotating seasonal favors. Milkshakes and trendy rolled ice cream will also be added to the menu once the creamery is ready.

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The city’s best-known vegan business is Slutty Vegan, which started in Atlanta when founder Pinky Cole first opened it as a food truck in 2018. Since then, Cole has expanded the business to new heights.

After opening multiple locations across Georgia and Alabama, Cole brought Sluti Vegan to Brooklyn last fall. And with a $25 million investment raised last summer, there’s no slowing down with the Harlem expansion—and its first drive-thru location—already in the works.

All of these vegetarian businesses are run by Black Atlantans, who, according to the US Census, comprise 48.2 percent of the city’s population and make up the city’s largest population.

Black Americans are also at the forefront of the vegetarian movement, with nearly eight percent of black Americans identifying as strict vegetarians or vegans, compared to just three percent of the general population, according to Pew Research.

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