When Tierra Williams moved to State College from Mississippi in 2018, she went in search of grits and biscuits only to find overwhelming offerings of oatmeal and muffins. “The people here are so sweet, but y’all can’t cook like we do down South,” Williams says with love and conviction. In 2019, Williams started working at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe and began baking vegan chocolate chip cookies that would always sell out. Williams embraced the opportunity to fill the vegan baked goods void and create Chakras Cafe through which she sells her vegan products and showcases her Southern-style cooking for special events.
“Baking in general actually scared me. It’s been a journey,” Williams says of her trial-and-error approach to coming up with her recipes. She doesn’t like to use applesauce and flaxseed substitutes for eggs. She wants to make things that taste good and are also good for you — that don’t taste like birdseed. Her vegan tiramisu cupcakes are popular as are her vegan cheesecakes, mini pies, cobblers and tarts.
Williams wanted to name her business “The Sugah Cane,” but found that no one could say “Sugah.” It was similar to when she had her business in Mississippi called “Pestos,” though no one in the South knew what pesto was and she had to explain it to everybody. Williams arrived at the name “Chakras Cafe” from her own work in aligning herself within the seven chakras, or the seven energy centers of the body (root, sacrum, heart, solar plexus, throat, third eye and crown). When she cooks, she tries to base things on the color of the corresponding chakra or the healing properties around a specific chakra. For instance, if she wants to focus on the throat chakra, she might incorporate ginger or lemon. For the root chakra, she might make something with potatoes or use a plant with strong roots.
When her son was born with digestive issues, Williams found that a plant-based diet worked best for him. This prompted her to clear out her fridge and start a vegetarian lifestyle. “It helps me stay balanced. It gives me freedom,” she says about making these diet changes and cooking in ways that are “fresh” and “spicy” and “happening.”
Freedom is central to all of Williams’ work in the world. This June, Williams is coordinating a liberation week of events with Black2Reality to celebrate Juneteenth. Williams says, “We want people to understand that it wasn’t just on the 19th that people were just free and that was it. There were all these days leading up to this battle and this fight and this struggle to finally have the last slaves be free.” Williams along with her partner in Black2Reality, Latisha Franklin, will host a Southern High Tea at 3 Dots on June 14. This “Southern belle bougie” celebration will serve tea from Franklin’s Gratified Grad tea selection, paired with baked goods and sweets made by Chakras Cafe. “We want people to come in costume,” Williams says. She hopes to see hats, lace gloves and party dresses.
In August, Chakras Cafe will host a Black August Feast. Celebrated within the Black community, Black August honors the freedom fighters, especially those inside the walls of our sprawling prison-industrial complex (Center for Constitutional Rights). There is a tradition of fasting during Black August, and to break the fast, Williams will showcase her Southern cooking style in a five- to six-course meal on Aug. 28 at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe. New Orleans style vegan gumbo, sweet potato hummus with cinnamon naan, fried biscuit rounds with spiced peaches and cream on top are all possibilities.
Williams is a woman of many hats. She is the first Afro-American woman to serve as a Ferguson Township supervisor. She is the outreach coordinator for Community Conferencing, an activist, a yoga teacher and a poet. Williams has big dreams for Chakras Cafe, to move beyond its home in Webster’s and her Big Cartel website. She would like it to become a beacon for vegan breakfast goers, a restaurant or food truck, serving Belgian waffles, parfaits, and of course, biscuits and grits.