In this episode I interview Naijha Wright-Brown and Greg Brown, founders of vegan soul food bistro The Land of Kush in Baltimore, Maryland.
Naijha, a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan’s lower east side and raised in the South Bronx, is a people person, with over 20 years of customer relations experience. She’s held managerial, technical and administrative positions at Verizon Wireless, Dow Jones Markets, and Credit Suisse First Boston.
She co-founded and organizes Vegan SoulFest, an annual vegan festival for Baltimore’s inner-city communities which attracts around 7,000 attendees. She is also the Executive Director of the Black Vegetarian Society of Maryland, an organization that connects people wherever they are on their journey to veganism with a focus on the Black and Latino communities.
Greg had no intention of becoming a vegan chef. Like Naijha, he had a career in corporate America – in fact they worked together at Verizon. After becoming vegetarian in the late 1990s and then vegan, he learned how to cook without animal products out of necessity.
In 2008, during the height of the mortgage crisis in the US, the couple left their successful jobs to realize the dream of opening a vegan soul food restaurant.
The eatery attracts a diverse range of clientele from all walks of life, both vegans and non-vegans, including politicians and celebrities such as Stevie Wonder.
What’s extra special about The Land of Kush is that as well as being a for-profit business, it also has a social mission to give back to the local community. Many of the employees are black youth who have never held a job. Naijha and Greg provide training and mentoring and go out of their way to give people, many of whom have been on public assistance for a long time, a chance to become leaders.
In this interview Naijha and Greg talk about:
• How they get their staff, many of whom are from economically depressed communities, to become ambassadors for their brand
• The benefits of rewards programs to keep customers coming back
• How collaboration with other businesses, non-profits, schools and community organizations has been instrumental in the restaurant’s success
• A different way to look at your day job, especially if you hate it
• How to work successfully with your partner in a business, even when you’re both A-type personalities
• And much more
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