By Carla Thomas
Latisha Daring is the owner of vegan restaurant Greedi Kitchen, which has two locations (one closed for now due to the pandemic) in Brooklyn.
I am fortunate enough as an entrepreneur to have lived through my third major economic shift. I’ve had a business through 9/11, and I’ve had a business through the economic crisis of 2007 through 2009, and now the pandemic. So when this all happened, I just looked up to God and laughed and was like, “You are very funny, because I don’t believe that You think I have what it takes to go through this for the third time.” I transitioned out of fashion, thinking that food was somewhat transition-proof. And this pandemic has proved that not to be the case.
My entire transition out of fashion was scary because I had never worked in food before. To be hit with the uphill battle of learning the industry and running two restaurants by myself, and being a woman, and a Black woman—I faced many challenges. I still face challenges every day.
But when the initial lockdown announcement came out, and the reality of what that meant sank in, I had many emotions. I was happy that I knew I had a strong business that could make it through. But I also knew I needed to be very smart and strategic in how I was marketing, to make sure that my traffic was consistent from day to day. I actually cook the food, and I’m engrossed in the business. I’m not just the owner.
You have to make certain cuts in order to survive financially. But then you also have to take a step back and look at your business from the outside—evaluate the things that work, things that don’t, and what kind of changes you need to make to survive through the pandemic.
And so every day I’m reevaluating every experience. We use every bit of feedback we get from customers. I’m very observant, even reading facial expressions. Understanding how to make quick and efficient changes is where my focus lives. It’s been no joke at all.
My first location is very small—only 300 square feet. When we originally came up with the concept, it was a lunch counter vibe. It worked for us because it was the intimacy that I wanted—in my face, being able to literally cook and serve it myself, and have a conversation through the whole process of preparing someone’s food. That’s what fuels me.
But I always knew that people don’t necessarily want to sit down. Sometimes they just want to enjoy the food in the comfort of their own home. And so takeout was always a part of our process. With the pandemic, it just increased tenfold because indoor dining was eliminated. The Bergen Street location only had an eight-foot counter anyway—it really wasn’t a large capacity space for dining. So we were able to easily transition into takeout.
The whole purpose of the Ralph Avenue location was to expand the Greedi experience upon a larger stage without losing the intimacy. It’s still close and comfy and cozy, but we really wanted to make sure that we could feed our elders. At the Crown Heights location, our counters are really high—seniors didn’t really feel comfortable in the seats. We included takeout at Ralph Avenue too, and during the pandemic, it just got crazy in both locations.
I had to make a really tough decision because one of the things that I will not do is sacrifice the expectations of my customer base. When Black Lives Matter happened—when the George Floyd murder happened, and we were actively in these streets letting them know that it wasn’t okay—our business was amazing, but the kitchen couldn’t keep up. The kitchen is super small at the Bergen Street location. So I made the decision in August to actually close Bergen Street and just focus on our larger location. That gave us the ability to serve more people, streamline our operations, and deal with the volume of orders versus trying to do that in both places.
I was raised vegan. My mom is Rasta, so the vegan lifestyle has many different implications for me. My mom chose to eat that way because of her religious beliefs. As a child growing up, it wasn’t about me understanding why—it was more, this is how we’re gonna eat, and that’s it. As an adult, I’ve made a decision to actually remain vegan.
And as vegan—as a Black vegan—I was very frustrated. Why are there not more Black-owned vegan restaurants?’ Why am I forced to have food that has no flavor just because it’s healthy? And why is it that I have to literally make my meal up out of three different restaurants instead of one? That was where I came up with the idea to just do it myself.
It’s almost like I’ve kind of existed in the headspace this entire year of “we don’t know.” Every day you wake up, and you’re afraid to make a decision that could be detrimental to your business, because you just don’t know. I had to reflect on that because I didn’t know anything getting into this. I’ve adopted that original mindset of fear versus faith. You can’t be faithful and be afraid—the two things don’t work together. So one has to go, and I’ve decided to let go of that fear.
My community has shown up so much for us during this entire experience—we weren’t eligible for any of the grants, loans, anything. The only reason why we are still open, still surviving, reopening—had it not been for my customers, we wouldn’t be here. I don’t think that I’m worried about customers not showing up. I’m more worried about making sure that we show up the way they want us to show up.
I’m born and raised here in Brooklyn, and this is actually my third business. I opened my clothing store back in 2000, and we had it for about 10 years. My husband was involved in that business, and that taught us a lot about how to cultivate our community—creating something that people want to to support and help grow. We opened during a time in Brooklyn where there were only a few Black retailers.
My husband and I had built a career in retail, and we decided that we wanted to do it for ourselves. I guess it was like a rallying cry for the community because they loved it. They supported it, and we inspired others to do it as well. I think there’s something very special about Brooklyn, and the people that live here and truly have been here, because we know the potential of Brooklyn.
And we want to be able to see ourselves. I always say we have to gentrify because we want more amenities for our communities. It’s just, are we the ones that are bringing those amenities to our communities? Are we the ones opening these businesses? Or are we allowing ourselves to be pushed out, and then have no connection to where we grew up, to where our roots are?
I’m from this community. I went to school in Crown Heights, I grew up in Flatbush, and I now live in Bed-Stuy/Brownsville. These are all communities that I’ve connected to since my childhood, and that I want to continue to connect to as an adult. Brooklyn has a special place in my heart and always will.