This story is part of an ongoing series exploring local black businesses with TV show Ujamaa Rising.
Just one month after opening its doors, business at Life Eatery is booming. Located at 1415 North Clinton Avenue, the new restaurant features fresh, plant-based menu options in a neighborhood where corner stores and fast, fried food typically dominates. The 14621 zip code is also known for a lack of high quality grocery stores.
Life Eatery owners say the restaurant was inspired by a passion for health and fitness.The owner, Frederick Poole, along with restaurant manager, Dianna Cliff, operated a gym in the same neighborhood. But, when they needed to expand to a larger space, they saw an opportunity to add the element of nutrition to the growing business.
“Both myself and the owner are vegan,” she said. “We saw it as an opportunity to kind of shed some light on the different types of food we enjoy and bridge the gap between meat eaters and non-meat eaters.”
By offering Rochester classics including their fried Halal chicken wings alongside vegan dishes like Chickpea “Chicken” Salad, they are encouraging people to come in for something they love and maybe find a new favorite meal before they leave. Cliff said she finds inspiration for the menu in foods she loved growing up. She focuses on using familiar flavors and also preparing vegetables in new ways.
“There’s definitely a lot of individuals who are curious and our restaurants serves as an opportunity to try things that are familiar,” she said. “People will say ‘I don’t like mushroom’ and they will try the mushroom wings and say ‘Oh I’ve never have them this way before.’”
She believes getting customers to trust the menu now will encourage them to try more exotic flavors in the future.
But it is not just new customers that Life Eatery wants to attract. The restaurant serves as an oasis for vegans and vegetarians already in the community. And if you’re wondering whether the neighborhood will support a business like Life Eatery, don’t forget black veganism has deep roots.
Religious, spiritual and even social justice movements in the black community all include elements of veganism as part of their doctrine. Rastafarianism and Islam use a plant-based diets which are essential in maintaining a healthy spirit while organizations like Black Lives Matter include vegetarianism as an option to combating elements of white supremacy.
“People typically think of black people as unhealthy but a lot of that has to do with modern systemic issues and slavery,” said Imani Goethe, who eats at the restaurant. She said she loves the mushroom wings. “A lot of people of color and black people have very healthy, plant-based diets. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a kid.”
“People are coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘We were looking for this in our community,'” said Cliff.
Only 30 days in and residents are already asking when an additional location will be opening. Cliff is expanding the menu and will be including more specific options for vegans on stricter diets.
“I’m looking to just add more healthier options. There are some vegans that are alkaline vegans. There is a diet that’s very strict. I definitely want to add more of those options,” she said.
In addition to great food, the restaurant features natural smoothies blended to order. And the gym, which will be located next door to the restaurant in Red Wing Plaza is currently undergoing renovations. Once complete, it will include nutrition education classes for members and people in the community.
Life Eatery opens daily at 11 a.m. Visit their Facebook page here.