Jenelle Smith displays two dishes she serves at her her all-vegan restaurant, Jen’s Organics.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

SPRINGFIELD — Jenelle Smith opened her restaurant, Jen’s Organics, in November 2023. Since then, she has built a base of customers who have responded to her array of all-vegan dishes.

While many restaurants offer vegan options, Smith said Jen’s Organics, located in a small storefront on State Street in the Mason Square neighborhood of Springfield, is the only exclusively vegan restaurant between Northampton and Hartford.

“We are very good at taking things that people normally eat and making them vegan,” Smith said.

Smith does not use tofu or other protein substitutes commonly sold in grocery stores. Instead, she relies on mushrooms, a seasoned quinoa bread mix and chickpeas to stand in for non-vegan ingredients. For example, she said the restaurant’s fried chicken platter and crispy chicken salad are actually made with oyster mushrooms, which have a “meaty” texture.

The menu at Jen’s Organics changes daily, with a rotating lineup of two or three entrees each day, including Monday’s “jerk BBQ mushroom stir fry,” Wednesday’s “red roasted pasta” and Friday’s “gyro wrap platter.” There is also a pizza of the day. Some dishes are available all week, such as the “steak & cheez no egg rolls,” tortilla salad and garden salad.

Smith won the 2023 Stone Soul Cookoff against 26 other chefs, most of whom did not restrict themselves to cooking vegan.

Smith became vegan five years ago, after the death of her mother at age 46. Smith, who is now 46 herself, said that her mother had an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. “I didn’t want that to be my future,” Smith said.

After becoming vegan, Smith started preparing meals ahead of time. Soon, others asked her to meal prep for them, as well. She then began working at Garden of Eat’n, where she learned to cook restaurant-quality vegan dishes.

“I love to cook. That’s my love language,” Smith said. Her customers don’t always know what to expect. She said, “Some customers are vegan. Others just come in to support me and are surprised that it tastes good.”

Smith acknowledged that cooking vegan is more expensive than non-vegan meals, mostly because vegetables tend to be pricier than less-healthy options. “You can get five cheeseburgers at McDonalds for $5, or a head of lettuce costs $5,” she remarked. That said, Smith’s prices range from $6 for a slice of pizza to $16 for most meals.
Jen’s Organics, 872 State St., is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.