Transition Story: Eva + Henry Vega

I am Eva Vega, founder and co-owner of THYME and play, a concept that my husband Henry and I have been dreaming about and developing for several years. By trade we are Navy Veterans and American Certified Culinarians. We enjoy experimenting with new foods, discovering new culinary techniques, and hosting get-togethers but our passion is truly for serving families with different types of “abilities”.

I was born in Homestead, Florida and my love for food started when my mother introduced me to the culinary arts at a very young age. My mom used to draw out these elaborate dishes in our home and together we’d prepare it from scratch using the ingredients we’d find around the house. Following her model of putting others before self, I joined the Navy and started my career as an Airborne Communicator. Five years later, after a few injuries and a desire to follow my own path, I ended my time in service and received my degree in Culinary Arts with a specialization in Baking and Pastries.

Henry was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. At 11 years old, his family moved to the Bronx. In 2003, he made a choice to be apart of something bigger than himself and enlisted in the United States Navy. This is where his journey with food began. For 10 years he served amongst his brethren and sisters in service, honing his craft, experimenting with a variety of flavors, and gaining culinary insights from many of the countries he traveled to, like Japan, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Dubai. Many of his travels brought moments of inspiration that have since been incorporated in a majority of the dishes he creates today.

Henry and I are both disabled veterans. We met in bootcamp, of all places, then dated five years and married in 2008. Two weeks after we got married my husband was deployed on with his carrier and I was deployed overseas to the sandbox. While in the sandbox I got injured and was no longer able to fly.

My transition out was hard because I didn’t have any resources to go to for help. I didn’t know what questions to ask or what help I would need. Thankfully, an Air Force Veteran helped me file my initial claim and that garnered my first rating. Without her help I wouldn’t be where i am today.

My husband didn’t get out of the military until four years later. We were stationed in Japan and I had the military community, Tricare, and other supports so I didn’t feel the transition in full effect till we both were back in the states in December 2011. It was really hard when we got back. I hadn’t sought after too much medical help, and we both had planned on being in the military for life, and sadly that isn’t what the cards dealt us.

I had to learn the VA system, learn how to do an increase, how to fight for treatment, and how to be “normal” again. I didn’t have the security of being on base anymore with people who just understood what I was going through. Business would hire me but then get mad if I had to take off of work to get treated. I left some good paying jobs because they didn’t understand that not all disabilities are visible. On the other hand, my husband struggled getting recognition for the experience he earned in the military. They only saw him as “inexperienced” and offered him minimum wage pay for jobs he had done for 10 years; to this day we both aren’t valued for our experience. The struggle was real in all aspects. Financially, we were surviving on Post 9/11 stipends and compensation, and we had to learn how to make it with just that. There were a lot of things that happened when we transitioned that made us weary, or caused undue stress, but we kept trucking, and persevered. It still is a learning curve we are trying to master.

In 2012, after returning home to the states, our oldest child Alex received an unexpected diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. At first, we battled with the idea that the diagnosis was our fault. We assumed Autism was just a negative label our child would have to endure for the rest of his life. After some soul searching and research, combined with valuable life experiences we realized that Autism was beautiful in it’s own right and we decided it would be our job to make our world more accessible to Alex’s needs. Being Different didn’t have to mean Less for our son. So our journey to spread awareness and create genuine social opportunities for children like our son fueled our desire to create THYME and Play, a Greenville, S.C.-based personal chef catering service and supper club that aims to create one-of-a kind experiences for adults, children, families and friends of people with different abilities. We aim to be the atypical version of a restaurant that you never knew you needed, covering everything from Birthday Parties, to small events, pastry and cake orders, and intimate dinners. With every dish served and reservation taken we bring our community one step closer to embracing all types of persons, no matter what their ability.

Eva Vega served as a member of the United States Navy 2nd Class Petty Officer, E-5, Naval Aircrew, and her husband, Henry, also served in the Navy as a  3rd Class Petty Officer, E-4, Culinary Specialist. Together they founded Thyme and Play out of Upstate South Carolina.