Zsa-Zsa Porter is co-owner of Exposed Vegan restaurant in City West Commons on West Boulevard.

Zsa-Zsa Porter and Nikkis Campbell are triathletes, mothers and entrepreneurs who want to expose the West Charlotte community to a vegan lifestyle.

They opened Exposed Vegan restaurant at 1540 West Blvd. earlier this month with curbside pickup and delivery and intend to add a food truck to reach more of the community. Salads, bowls, smoothies and vegan cookies are among the menu items.

Exposed Vegan is based in City West Commons, a location incorporated into the city of Charlotte’s #StreetEats program, which wrapped on Nov. 22. The program turned parking and sidewalks into outdoor eating spaces to encourage people to support restaurants amid capacity limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are very excited to provide healthy options to West Boulevard,” Porter said. “During the pandemic we recognized that there are so many [people] who are looking for healthy options, especially if they are working from home or are just not out and about. They need to get fresh food or plant-based food, and we are excited to provide those options.”

West Boulevard is one of the city’s six areas in the Corridors of Opportunity program, which targets bridging gaps in infrastructure, workforce, transportation, housing and code enforcement, business development, public safety and urban design. The $24.5 million initiative kicked off in September on Beatties Ford Road.

The West Boulevard corridor is a food desert, making the addition of businesses like Exposed Vegan significant in terms of providing healthy options.

“It is so important that we continue to provide healthy food options and access to residents along the corridor, because right now we don’t have that,” City Council District 3 representative Victoria Watlington said. “We want to invest in people’s education and their economic mobility, but we also want to invest in their health. Part of doing that is partnering with healthy food options with business owners.”

Said Porter: “There are some low-income areas that we want to make sure that we give back to.”

Porter’s background is in financial services, specifically digital and mobile. While she still has her corporate job, she felt called to provide something for the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am not a nurse and I am not a doctor, so I am not someone who can help people who are sick in that way, but I can cook,” Porter said. “I can provide healthy options. We recognized that a plant-based diet can help someone with ailments, and it can help prevent several diseases. We felt our role to play was to provide those healthy options to everyone during the pandemic.”

Porter’s conversion to a healthier lifestyle had a direct impact on her health. Knee pain when running led to a diagnosis of severe arthritis and inflammation. Her doctor gave three options: medication, surgery or a diet change and weight management to reduce the stress on her knees, which were broken when she was 17. The latter worked best for her.

Porter pursued an Ironman triathlon after turning 40, which meant tackling a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles of biking and 26.22-mile run. Her goal is to expose myths and debunk stereotypes about living a vegan lifestyle.

“I recognized there just something I wanted to do for myself,” she said. “I have three kids, and I love to swim and bike. So does my business partner. I decided to start doing triathlons. I started triathlons about four years ago, and two years ago, I completed my first Ironman. I have completed that twice.”

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