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For the first installment of Kith Community, we highlight Greedi Kitchen, based in Brooklyn.
Who is Latisha Daring? What should people know about her?
Latisha Daring is fearless, for sure. I definitely am not a one trick pony - I love trying new things, I love learning how to do new things and that's where the fearlessness comes in. I'm not afraid to try, at least once. If I fail, I fail but at least I had fun trying and learned a new skill in the process, or even something new about myself.
When/how did you know it was time to leave fashion to pursue Greedi? What was that experience like for you?
I had been in fashion for a really long time, and I reached a point in my career where I was making the money I wanted to make but it just wasn't enough. I was not happy - I wasn't fulfilled. The politics of the game were not who I was, and being a black woman in the retail game comes with a lot. My overall goal was to find something that was going to be recession-proof and offer me ultimate joy. I had always been a serial entrepreneur and decided I wanted to try something in a new arena. I always really enjoyed cooking, so it was a natural progression. It was definitely scary because I didn't go to culinary school and am not formally trained, but I think fear is always a part of the equation. Everything I know comes from skill sets that have been passed down to me, so I took all those references and built something new with it. And that's how we got here.
What were the struggles of opening Greedi Kitchen?
The unknown. It was scary. I didn't have a lot of money, and getting funding as a black business has its own challenges. But I just got really creative and used my salary to fund the restaurant. I would literally wake up at 6am, go to Restaurant Depot in Maspeth, Queens, buy all my food, go to the restaurant in Brooklyn, unload everything, start cooking, be done by 12 when my employee would come in, and then I would head over to Rag & Bone for work by 1pm in the Meatpacking District - and I did that for the first year. It was insanity. I was exhausted but I knew that I was working towards an end goal. Having the energy to keep up both while I was building this was difficult, but no matter how hard it was, it was ultimately fulfilling work. I definitely feel like this is what I was meant to do.
What makes the culinary industry so difficult?
The failure rate. I don't want to misquote but the failure rate is something crazy - like 1 in every 3 don't survive. And then when you add on not being formally trained, being black, not having access to resources and funding, you get buried by it. But I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I have not had an easy life so failure isn't as scary to me as it is to other people. What’s scary to me is not trying.
What did this pandemic look like for Greedi Kitchen?
We didn't close. We closed for like two days and we have been rocking ever since. All I knew was to just serve. I belong to CCC, which is a huge church in Canarsie and I reached out to a friend of mine and said “I have food, I don't know what to do, help me feed people”. We ended up being able to feed lunch and dinner to 50 elders in this community. We then started serving frontline health workers because they were getting like the worst food ever. We are in a pandemic, we know this bacteria attacks the immune system and we are feeding them pizza and burgers and fries?! I didn't understand it, so it was important for us to be able to feed them foods that would boost their immune system. Our customers donated and even came to help - we had an assembly line of people that went around the restaurant. It was really awesome.
Would you say Greedi Kitchen is more comfort food?
Initially when we started, I was annoyed that we were pigeonholed to that because I am a black woman from the South. What if I wanted to cook Italian food tomorrow? But then I started to embrace it, because truly we are vegan comfort food. Our selection is very diverse and we are going to continue to develop and grow our menu in that way because that's what people love about us. There is something on the menu that everyone can identify with. Greedi Kitchen will be many things as an umbrella company, but the first stop is the restaurant.
When Greedi Kitchen first opened, you and your husband Colin were running the entire show from cooking and cleaning to running the business. How has the power of community impacted your business?
Greedi is only here because of the community. This Bed-Stuy location would not have opened if it wasn't for the enormous amount of support from our client base. I was petrified to open this because we were only a year old. I was very nervous about that failure rate. I asked myself - am I doing too much too fast? Are we really ready? And the way the community rallied around us to say, “No you need to do this, you need to open that second location, here's a check.” I never experienced anything like that in any business. One day I had an issue and I was the only person here, I had to cook, serve, and ring tables and all my customers were like its fine. They waited. The amount of patience, the level of understanding, it was just beautiful. One of my girlfriends was actually coming in to eat brunch and she saw that it was just me and asked me, “What do you want me to do?” She jumped in the kitchen and helped me - and that's consistent. Community is Greedi.
Are you still very hands on?
Yes, I’m here every day - 7 days per week. I will always be hands on. It's very important to me that the food is consistent. I get inspired by putting my hands in it. There’s a level of responsibility that I have in owning this restaurant and it’s not just that it’s a business. I have a responsibility to my customers to do my due diligence to create things that they can come here for - to meet them, discover where they are in their journey and to really challenge myself, because I’m not formally trained. The fun part to me is putting things together and creating new dishes by playing in my own kitchen. As a business owner, you have to be hands on. How will you know what your customers want? How will you know what your staff needs? How do you know to evolve your business if you’re not present?
What advice would you give to other women of color striving to be entrepreneurs in their own fields?
Know that it's not easy. I think there's a lot going on right now, in our society that makes people think that things are easy. It's probably my biggest frustration because nothing is easy. There's true work, sweat and equity that has to go into anything that you are building. When the BLM movement was going on, I was furious everyday. I want us to be great, I want us to step into the spaces and places that we’re supposed to be in, but we can't do that if we are not ready. We really have to understand that we have so many opportunities right in front of us but we want to go do what someone else is doing - and that just isn't self defining or self sustaining. So really understand what it is to be an individual. Really understand what it is to be unique and different. Embrace that, be ok with that and understand that's what makes you special. Any concept that comes out of that can be just as special and important, but you have to be willing to do the work. Doing the work is so important. Because we always want to do better and be better but I think the work that requires us to be better, is not something we are always willing to do.
Was there ever a dish you wanted to make vegan but could not perfect?
I have an obsession with biscuits and cornbread and I am not a baker. I perfected it once but it's the consistency! I love biscuits and cornbread so sometimes I will whip it together and it works but other times, t's a straight fail. So those are the two things in my challenge bucket that I would like to get consistent with because I love them too much to not know how to cook them.
What is your favorite dish on the menu and favorite dessert?
Dessert first - I don't make them myself but I have vendors. I have three vendors and I love something from each one of them. From Uptown Vegan, I love her lemon blueberry cake. From Bobby Bakes, I love his strawberry key lime cake and banana pudding. From How Delicious in Jersey, their banana pudding cheesecake doesn't even taste vegan! Favorite dish.. You are not playing fair! I would say, I love our Jerk Chicken, Potato Salad and I love our Mac n Cheese. But the one thing that I will eat all the time is our Soul Bowl. It's the fan favorite and for me as well.
What is your long term goal with Greedi?
Definitely a food truck this summer. I want a bed- and-breakfast somewhere eventually, maybe 1-2 more locations and a grocery store. My grocery store is a priority because it was something we were going to start before COVID-19, and you can see remnants of it in the restaurant. We can't have a conversation about the relationship between food and community without talking about access and options. If you could walk into a supermarket today where every product on the shelf was created by a person of color, healthy, affordable and just an overall experience - would that not be ideal? We are always the consumers, and I want to put us in a position of being the creators and ultimately know who is consuming our product. That cycle is how we elevate our community. That is kind of where I see us and what I want over the next couple of years - and we will see how we make that happen.
Lastly, where can we find you?
180 Ralph Ave, 1031 Bergen Street in Brooklyn and greedikitchen.com. Oh and Bergen will be reopening February 21st, you heard it here first!