A New Plant-Based Restaurant Is Coming To San Diego | Donna Jean To Open In Hillcrest On February 22

February 9, 2017

San Diego's newest vegan restaurant - Donna Jean - is almost ready to unveil! An exciting new "California meets Midwest" plant-based concept located on the Hillcrest/Bankers Hill border next to Balboa Park, Donna Jean has moved into the former Sanfilippo's space and is set to grand open on February 22 with a menu of elevated comfort foods that just happen to be free of animal products, as well as a curated list of craft beer, wine, kombucha, sake cocktails and more.

Donna Jean Chef/Owner Roy Elam grew up on the Illinois side of St. Louis and wants to bring the farm-fresh mindset he was raised with to San Diego where there is an abundance of fresh produce available all year long. Donna Jean was Elam's mother's name. She passed from cancer at 55 and toward the end of her life, doctors told her to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Elam believes that if she had that advice earlier in life, she probably would not have been inflicted in the first place, so he aims to make vegan cuisine approachable and accessible, while at the same time delicious, filling and beautifully plated.

Grits with cherry tomato confit, grilled squash, cassoulet
beans, CA wild rice, and crispy kale
"We are not pushing Donna Jean as a vegan restaurant," explained Elam. "I want to make food that starts a conversation. We are not a health food restaurant or any of those things. My aim is to run the best restaurant in San Diego, not the best vegan restaurant."

Roy Elam learned to cook on the job. He gained local experience when he lived in San Diego for about 6 years in the early 2000s before moving to Oregon. Eventually, Elam moved to Los Angeles to get back together with his band. There, he worked as the head chef at SunCafe Organic in Studio City and further honed his skills as the Chef de Cuisine at LA's Plant Food + Wine, owned by Matthew Kenney, an entrepreneur who is currently in the process of launching a vegan empire.

Donna Jean is attached to another San Diego vegan concept - Evolution Fast Food. Elam actually worked in the space a decade ago when it was all under one roof and called Kung Food Vegetarian Restaurant. When San Filippos shut their door on December 29 of last year, Elam quickly scooped up the familiar space and was in there by January 2 - a coming home of sorts.

Baked ricotta
The 1,200 square-foot eatery will have 120 seats total within the inside dining room and outdoor patio. Outside, planter boxes will grow a lot of the restaurants herbs and other produce. The menu will be filled with plant-based comfort food dishes made with local California ingredients. Highlights include toasted farro apple ravioli with saffron arrabbiata, popped sorghum roasted carrots & snap peas, smoked oyster mushroom sliders, Salisbury tempeh, and the cast iron mac & "cheese", a recipe which Huffington Post once called "the best mac n' cheese they've ever eaten." There will also be an array of vegan deserts, hot tea and coffee, and non-alcoholic options. Behind the bar, there will be 3 taps devoted to West Coast craft beer and another 4 taps for kombucha, cider, and kefir. Additionally, there will be more beers by the bottle, wines by the glass and bottle, and a lineup of sake-based cocktails.

Donna Jean will sit at 2949 5th Avenue on the Bankers Hill/Hillcrest border and will be open for dinner from 6-10pm Wednesday through Sunday starting on February 22. For more information, visit facebook.com/donnajeansd, call 619.299.5500, and check out the launch menu below.