“I wanted a place where people could feel welcomed and included,” said Brennah Lambert, a 2020 alumna of Rutgers School of Business–Camden and owner of LesbiVeggies, a plant-based, gluten-free café in Audubon, N.J. The self-taught chef knew the menu would be an important part of the restaurant, but for this Gen Z entrepreneur, the atmosphere was equally crucial.
“I was focused on the whole experience,” Lambert said. “I wanted a place where people could have good food in a comfortable environment.” As a Black woman who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, Lambert has incorporated inclusivity into the restaurant’s name and values.
Lambert’s commitment to inclusivity also extends to her approach to cooking. She looks to surprise her customers with inventive, mouthwatering dishes like coconut curry noodles or firecracker tofu lettuce wraps. “Going vegan opens up your mind to different perspectives,” she said.
The restaurant, which opened in February 2021, was just the latest step in a journey Lambert has been on since high school, though she didn’t know it at the time. As a teen, she didn’t enjoy cooking and never thought of becoming a chef. Instead, the native of Lindenwold, N.J. wound up in the kitchen as a way to manage ongoing health issues. “I didn’t really know what else to do,” Lambert said. “So, I took it into my own hands. I did some research and found that—surprise, surprise—eating healthier could help me.”
Lambert’s new diet led not only to better health, but also changed her perspective. When she was growing up, plant-based diets weren’t common, either among Lambert’s family members or within the Black community. She is hoping to change that with her restaurant, and her timing could not be better: A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 8 percent of Black Americans identify as vegan or vegetarian, compared to just 3 percent of the national population.
Lambert moved from plant-based enthusiast to plant-based entrepreneur when some family friends asked if she would prepare meals for them. That request planted the initial seed for a meal-delivery service. Yet even as she was just getting started, fulfilling orders for new customers in her grandmother’s kitchen, Lambert came to realize she had a larger vision.
“I created the meal-prep service because I found enjoyment in food and healthy eating, but I wanted to combine that with an experience for people,” said Lambert. “There are two components to food: the food itself and the experience of where you are and how you feel while you’re eating it. The meal-prep service was missing the second part.”
Lambert began to leverage her classes at the School of Business, understanding that they were part of a solid foundation upon which she could build her dream. “You can have a passion, but you need knowledge and understanding to successfully run a business,” she said. Classes focused on entrepreneurship helped her appreciate the need to be creative, while finance classes spotlighted the ins and outs of a balance sheet. “I feel like that gave me a leg up in owning my business,” she said of her time at Rutgers–Camden.
Fast-forward to February 2021: A GoFundMe campaign helped Lambert get a portion of the capital she needed to get her storefront up and running, and she has shared her love of all things vegan with the community ever since. “The plant-based lifestyle has given me a love for good, quality food," Lambert said.
The community and region have responded in kind. Philadelphia magazine recognized LesbiVeggies as the 2021 “Place for Vegan Newbies” on its annual “Best of Philly” list. Plenty of other positive buzz has followed, but for Lambert, it all comes back to the people who visit the restaurant.
“Cooking is my creative outlet. It just happens organically,” Lambert said. “The environment that I’m creating in this space is the number one thing that I am proud of – it’s what I want people to experience.”
Design: Beatris Santos
Photography: Ron Downes Jr.