19 Aug Love Letter to New York City: Next Stop Vegan Pioneers a New Kind of Culinary Experience Uptown
LOVE LETTER // NYC
A Love Letter to Next Stop Vegan; Pioneering a New Kind of Culinary Experience Uptown
When I was 23 years old, I lived in the Dominican Republic for several months.
I lived in an orphanage called Orfanato Ninos de Cristo. I have written about it often. I have made films about the experience, the homecoming, and its importance in my life. It was one of the most impactful and important moments in my life. I remember many things about that summer; learning to dance bachata in the sugar cane fields, holding hands and praying in song, learning a new language, baseball in the streets.
But one thing struck me more than the others; how much food brought us together.
Every day, we gathered for a large family meal. I couldn’t wait to taste the savory adobo flavored habichuela (beans), the fluffy rice, the sliced avocados, the warm stews, and seasoned meats. Longiniza con cebolla roja, fried eggs and salami, chicharron sin hueso.
I ate it all. I loved it all. It was a celebration. A daily celebration.
A decade later, I stopped eating animal products. Not because I grew tired of the taste, but because I no longer wanted to participate in the suffering of animals.
But one particular thing worried me more than anything else.
How could I connect with all of these cultures I loved if I couldn’t break bread with them?
What would I eat?
Would I feel isolated, or make those around the table feel alienated?
A year into my vegan journey, I learned about someone named Blenlly Mena (thanks Instagram). She was the founder of a business called Next Stop Vegan. We shared a few messages, and then met in person.
I’ll never forgot the first night that I met you in person, Blenlly. A bone chilling November night at the Bronx Zoo. It was the first time I talked to you, and the first time I tried your food.
Mouth watering Dominican food.
Out of this world tasty Dominican food.
Made with plants. Only plants.
No meat. No cheese. No butter. No milk. No eggs.
I love the Bronx. And I love Washington Heights.
If you’ve never had a chance to visit the Bronx and Washington Heights, you should. It is loved by so many, and with good reason.
On a summer day, you see the coco helado stands on the street corners. You hear the beloved bachata favorites of Aventura, Anthony Santos, or Zacarias Ferreira blasting from parked cars or bodegas. The fire hydrants, open for on-demand splashing around fun for kids of all ages. People speak to each other, know each other, and care for each other. Home to many Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, these barrios are full of life and culture and soul.
Sadly, when I walk down many of these streets, here is what I see….
Fried Chicken, French Fries, Huevos Fritos.
Fried, fried, fried, and the health of its residents suffer from it with some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality in the United States.
When you created Next Stop Vegan, you pioneered a new type of culinary experience. Delicious Caribbean food, made out of plants and served with all the swag and spice that the world loves about Dominicans everywhere.
“When you created Next Stop Vegan, you pioneered a new type of culinary experience for your community.”
When I learned more about your origin story, your beginnings, and your motivation, I was even more impressed.
You started this business because you wanted to help a family member who had a medical condition. You were living in South Korea, cooking for a small group of friends who were enjoying your plant-based spins of classical Asian dishes. When your family member shared her condition, you returned home under one condition. She would eat a plant based-based diet and you would prepare the meals. And she did, and you moved back.
I am sure what happened next surprised you. Other people started asking you to cook more of these plant based meals. Three times a day meat eaters wanted more of your plant based dishes. Dominicans, African Americans, White, Latino; they all wanted more.
And you listened to your community. You started cooking more. And more, and more. From a small family team, you have not only grown your staff, but you have added a second location in Washington Heights. It’s not just Dominicans that are loving this food. I have personally enjoyed Next Stop Vegan’s food on numerous occasions. If you have not yet tasted the food, it is “off the hook.”
Sancocho, locrio, chimichurri, mofongo, mangu, and just about any Dominican crowd-pleaser you can think of can be found at Next Stop Vegan’s onsite location and food pick-up and delivery service on both Archer Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue.
“I have witnessed my family members depend on daily medication for the rest of their lives. I lost my father to a heart attack and he was sick with diabetes prior to his passing. I am taking it upon myself to create an awareness for our community to look around them, become aware and change their eating habits so that they themselves don’t become another statistic just like our parents,” Blenlly told me.
If you get a chance to walk into one of the Next Stop Vegan locations, you will feel her beating heart – strong, open, generous, and larger than life; a life that has been enriched because of this wonderful woman, this leader, this New Yorker, this force of nature.
Connected, committed, conscious and compassionate.
Wherever you are in your food journey, you know where to go; and as the 1 train pulls up at 191st street, I smile, because I know what’s on the way…
Next Stop Vegan.
Come meet Blenlly and try literally anything on her menu at their new Washington Heights location!
Thanks For Reading!
This letter is a part of Brian Rashid’s “Love Letters to the World,” a global initiative bringing stories of hope, humanity, and travel/tourism to our world.
A huge thanks to Bradley Tusk, the sponsor of this series called, “Love Letters to New York City.” Bradley is owner of Tusk ventures and Founder of P&T Knitwear.
You can read their story, here.
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Thank you so much for being here on what is literally my dream coming true.
Oh so true!
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