Makini Howell makes incredible plant-based food. For her, eating vegan comes naturally. Not only was she raised in a vegan family, but her family has been in the food business for over 40 years. “It was my mom that started our company,” Makini says. “She still has a restaurant in Tacoma, and my sister actually makes the cookies for Plum.”
Plum Bistro, on 12th Avenue on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in the lively Pike/Pine corridor, is an airy, contemporary space. In pre-Covid times, first-rate servers delivered beautiful plates of food to a bustling room of diners. A glance at a stylishly arranged plate of Makini’s seared spiced tofu with fried avocado, greens, chile powder, and black bean puree, and you might think it was topped with a piece of grilled halibut. But Makini isn’t trying to replace animal proteins in any way. In the introduction to her cookbook she says, “I’m really not trying to replace anything because I don’t feel…like I’m missing anything. I’m just using other sources of protein.”
This approach has won her legions of fans in Seattle and beyond—in 2019, The New York Times recognized her as one of 16 Black chefs changing food in America. Her creative, healthy approach to food and consistently beautiful dishes have led to a steadily growing vegan food empire in Seattle.
Of course, for now, Covid has forced some closures. “We’ve had to close down our Sugar Plum, our food truck, and our Seattle Center store,” Makini says.
Fortunately, Plum Bistro and Plum Chopped (a fast-casual walkup counter next to Plum Bistro featuring hearty salads) are open for dining and takeout, with dining capacity at 50 percent. “We do a lot of family meals now, they’re affordable and conscious of the fact that a lot of people are out of work,” Makini says.
For health reasons or environmental ones, a growing number of people have started eating plant-based diets. Makini, who can make carnivores forget there’s no meat in the food, has been a significant influence. And despite the many accolades she’s received, and the many loyal fans she has throughout the city, she continues to challenge herself in the kitchen. In the introduction to her cookbook, she explains, “This idea of changing the way you taste pushes us to experiment and recraft, to look at our dishes from outside the box and try to make them even tastier, more indulgent, and more vibrant.”
Drop into Plum Bistro or Plum Chopped, or order takeout. They need your support to get through this unprecedented challenge, and our