From the time the Prophet International Vegetarian Restaurant opened in 1971 until just recently, the East San Diego eatery served as the mainstay of San Diego's health food crowd. Vegetarians and health food aficionados from all over the country came for such unique dishes as African ground nut soup, the "Bangladesh" sandwich (a patty of soybeans, vegetables, and curry served on pita bread), and such nonalcoholic beverages as African ginger beer, gardenia and rose daiquiris, and a wheatgrass mint julep. Celebrities like Dick Gregory and Jane Fonda came by for lunch or dinner whenever they were in town. And by 1981, says owner Makeda Cheatham, business was so good that she started Prophet Productions to produce reggae and African concerts in town; early shows, she says, were largely funded by surplus restaurant profits.
But the last two years, she says, have been marked by a growing number of problems that in the end proved insurmountable, and the day after Thanksgiving, the Prophet – which Cheatham claims was the first vegetarian restaurant in town – shut its University Avenue doors for good, a victim of changing times, changing tastes, and a changing neighborhood.
First, Cheatham says, she and Cynthia Morris, the twin forces behind the restaaurant, were growing older "and didn't want to be up until four every morning, washing dishes and cleaning up." Then there were all the other projects the two had become involved in -- the thirty concerts a year by acts such as Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, and King Sunny Ade produced by Prophet Productions; Cheatham's Sunday-night reggae hour on radio station XTRA-FM (91X); and plans to compile a vegetarian cookbook.
But the main reason, Cheatham admits, was that after a decade of consistent growth, business at the Prophet had finally begun to level off. and by last year, things had turned around to the point where Prophet Productions was helping subsidize the restaurant through a series of loans of several thousand dollars each. "The main things was, University Avenue was really "changing," Cheatham says. "Customers would come out and their batteries would be stolen, there were several drug-related murders in the neighborhood, and people soon became afraid to come here. I remember talking to one girl on the phone and she said she loved the food, but her boyfriend had eaten here and when he left, he found his hubcaps had been stolen. We even almost got arrested for being in our own restaurant late one night -- the cops thought we had broken in."
Eventually, Cheatham says, she'd like to reopen the Prophet "somewhere in North County, where the people are really receptive to our holistic background," but for the time being she plans on concentrating on Prophet Productions concerts and other projects, such as marketing various Prophet Restaurant menu items in health food stores around the county. "I think we'll be more effective doing that than running a restaurant," Cheatham says. "This is 1985, and vegetarian eating is a whole new thing from what it was in the 1970s. It's just like all the people who were protesting about the government back in the 1960s. are now working for the government. Vegetarians who were real strict about their diets ten years ago are now part of the establishment now and are always in a hurry, so they can't be that strict anymore. Instead of going to restaurants like the Prophet, they're eating fast foods, and that's the market 'we're hoping to crack."