Quickie Too restaurant brings vegan comfort food to Hilltop

Managing a business is hard. Managing a business as a woman is harder. Managing a business as a woman of color and a mother is not any easier. Despite the demanding difficulties of these interlaced identities, Afi Howell, the manager of Quickie Too A Vegan Cafe, effectively runs the staple location for many vegan eaters from Tacoma and around Washington.

Together with her mother Niombi, Howell operates Quickie Too, which is open every day except Tuesdays.

“I have only one day off, but most of the days I try to do things within business hours. … I try to condense it all into one day,” Howell said.

Howell also emphasized the importance of taking vacations.

“I tell myself I’m not going to take any orders or call in when I’m away; I’ll do that when I come back,” Howell said.

However, work does not stop even when working hours do. As the mother of a two-year-old who is currently sleep-training, balancing motherhood and work can be difficult.

“Any time when there’s a dominant amount of people, I think it changes the situation,” Howell said about the atmosphere created by an all-female staff at Quickie Too. “Feminists feel more empowered. Like the two ladies that work here. They love that it is just the three of us.”

“Sometimes women think of things men don’t think of,” Howell said. “Like men don’t always think about bringing kids to work, but you still got to be a mom on top of everything else. … Because when you’re in a traditional relationship with a man, they still want their traditional role. I still have to go home and clean.”

“I do have some help. … You shouldn’t feel bad about having other people help,” Howell said as advice to young women who plan on becoming working mothers.

Howell’s experience taking on more work at home after her day job is not uncommon. According to “The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home” by Arlie Russell Hochschild and Annie Machung, this phenomenon is commonly recognized as the “Second Shift.” Women are often expected to continue traditionally female domestic roles such as cooking, cleaning and childcare.  

“I became a vegan last summer, and so I started going back when we came back to school because there aren’t a lot of vegan restaurants around here,” Anna Anderson, a regular customer and junior at the University of Puget Sound, said. “The food is always super good and I think the people and servers and everyone is pretty nice.”

Quickie Too offers a range of items from vegan burgers and fries to vegan mac and cheese (or “mac and yease” as named on the menu). The Quickie Too menu has changed over the years and the cafe continues to work to improve and expand their items on the menu.

“The menu we have is the fifth or sixth incarnation,” Howell said.

According to Howell, her mother became a vegan after her brother was born.

“When people are running small businesses, they’re passionate about what they do and they want other people to experience it,” Howell said about how her mother became inspired to create Quickie Too. “She wanted people to know that you could have dinner without killing something.”

The process that led to the creation of Quickie Too was not easy.

“She had a few small incarnations. Like she had a small grocery store where she made little sandwiches, and then she made another restaurant. … So she kept doing it a little bit at a time. … And after all these years it came to this one, close to what she was dreaming about it would be. … She’s in her 70s now, almost 80, so it’s been a long time,” Howell said.

According to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, the food landscape in Tacoma has changed drastically in the past 50 years. Many neighborhoods that previously had multiple grocery stores now face “the disappearance of local food businesses. … Many local corner stores that used to carry a wide selection of fresh food turned into places to purchase candy, cigarettes and beer.” The loss of local businesses has also greatly impacted the health of low-income communities such as the Hilltop District, where Quickie Too is located.

Although Afi Howell shared Quickie Too’s mission is more food-based, in a video posted by The City of Tacoma’s Inspired Palates Niombi Howell expressed her inspiration for changing to veganism coming from the community.

“Back in the 70s things were changing and people were dying around us from bad diets and bad lifestyles. And at that point there was opportunity to change,” Niombi Howell said in the video. Niombi Howell has been living in the Hilltop area since 1972 and continues to reside there today.

Though the vegan food offers a healthier option, most regular customers drive in from other locations. Howell says most customers are not locals but rather vegans who find Quickie Too through online searches.

“Some of the regulars work in the neighborhood but don’t live in the neighborhood,” Howell said. The lack of local customers may reflect the limited access to affordable healthy food.

Quickie Too is located in the Hilltop District on 1324 M.L.K Jr Way. They are open on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays from 11a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursdays from 11 a.m.to 6 p.m., and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. More information about Quickie Too can be found online or on the Quickie Too Facebook page.