Journey to the Land of Kush

Chef Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown, marketing director, co-owners of the Land of Kush, Baltimore’s premier vegan restaurant.

Chef Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown share their experience about opening their first vegan soul food restaurant, despite major challenges at the start

How do you open a vegan soul food restaurant during a recession, keep it going, and against all odds, still succeed?

I spoke with Chef Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown, the dynamic husband-wife team behind the vegan soul food eatery, The Land of Kush, to learn more about the challenges and inspiration behind their groundbreaking restaurant. But first, a little information about the founders. 

Chef Gregory is no stranger to the Baltimore food scene. Besides being the co-owner/chef of The Land of Kush in Baltimore, Maryland, he is also a board member of both the Black Veg Society and the Visit Baltimore Education and Training Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to developing Baltimore’s workforce and strengthening its tourism community.

Naijha Wright-Brown, the restaurant’s marketing director, is an expert on vegan and plant-based eating. She is the co-creator of Vegan Soulfest and the Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week, as well as the executive director of the Black Veg Society, an organization committed to educating predominantly Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, on the benefits of holistic living, plant-based eating, and veganism. 

Why did you decide to open The Land of Kush in an economically depressed section of Baltimore during the height of 2008 recession?

The Land of Kush opened in an economically depressed section of Baltimore to provide a solution for accessibility to healthier soul food options in Black and Latino communities. The fact that it was opened during a recession just happened to be because that was the time Gregory Brown wanted to open it. It wasn’t planned. It was during a time when everything came together for him to open the restaurant in terms of financing, partnership, and the ideal location. When it came to the location, our goal was to be in a neighborhood that needed better food options. The 840 North Eutaw Street location just fit everything in terms of proximity to economically challenged areas in terms of food options. It also met our budget.

Imagine you’re briefly trapped in an elevator with Oprah Winfrey. In one minute, how would you describe to her what your restaurant Land of Kush is like?

The Land of Kush is the ultimate vegan soul food experience! We are VeganSoul! Since 2011, we’ve been Baltimore’s premier vegan restaurant – serving the likes of Stevie Wonder, Angela Davis, and many others. We invite diners to celebrate a new way of life by allowing us to inspire them to feed their spirits. Our customers experience great food and a healthier way of living. We are more than just a restaurant. We are a social enterprise serving up barbecue rib tips, collard greens, candied yams, mac and cheese, award-winning crab cakes, fresh smoothies, and juices…all 100% vegan. We service an economically depressed area in Baltimore by hiring people from within that area and educating them on business, health, nutrition, and the vegan mission overall.

How does Land of Kush keep its vegan audience happy and coming back for more while also attracting meat-loving diners?

The Land of Kush keeps our vegan customers happy by simply serving delicious vegan food that caters to a wide variety of palates. We work hard to make the food really exciting and tasty. It also doesn’t hurt to have a proprietary loyalty rewards program to keep our repeat customers coming back. We initiated this program two years after our restaurant opened.

As far as attracting meat-loving diners, we serve food that is close in resemblance to meat dishes, but we also make food that’s very appetizing and delicious. We have had meat eaters come in and try the food and really love it so much that they cannot believe it isn’t meat. We don’t put any pressure on them to change their entire lifestyle. We simply give them an option to eat something that’s a bit healthier although slightly different from what they are used to.  

Land Of Kush Vegan Crab Cake
Land of Kush’s award-winning vegan crab cakes with kale salad and potato salad

How do you plan your vegan soul menus? What are your top three selling dishes?  

Naijha recommended the “vegan soul food” idea to reach our target audience. Prior to transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, Naijha loved soul food and thought veganizing popular soul food dishes would be better received, so I saw cooking vegan soul food in terms of an African-American perspective. As we advanced and my palate began to grow, I started looking at food across the equator in terms of African dishes, Caribbean dishes, Indian dishes, and Asian dishes. The thought came across my mind to combine those and I’m looking to add traditional Latin dishes. I’ll be working to add those dishes to the menu, one at a time, or maybe doing a special menu. We also offer catering so we get an opportunity to customize specific themed-type of catering. We enjoy preparing those.

The top three selling dishes on the menu are the barbecue rib tips, the mac & cheese, the kale salad with garlic avocado dressing, and we must add a fourth, our award-winning vegan crab cakes.  

How do you help your community through your restaurant and why is this such an important component of your business?

We help our community by offering healthier meal options, while also providing educational services where we go out and speak to different community organizations about healthier food choices, specifically vegan and plant-based foods.  We talk about how to cook these foods and we hire from within the community.  We hire youth and educate them on what books and educational material to read.  We assist them in dealing with real-life issues and how to develop themselves and grow personally and professionally. We can’t make employees develop themselves, but we do the best we can with the resources we have to assist them. We try to create a positive environment where an individual can grow and learn from us. 

It’s important for restaurants to get involved in their community because it’s not just about being a business, or in business, all about making money and profiting.  It’s also about having a partnership with the people and organizations that are around you whether it be schools, churches, or hospitals. Businesses should be there to support these individuals and organizations as best as they can.  

How does using Meatless Monday in your community promotions help you and Land of Kush? 

The Meatless Monday initiative helps The Land of Kush in a couple of different ways.  It engages those to meet up at the restaurant who may not normally come to the restaurant on any other day. We also have a long-standing partnership with an organization called Food Rescue Baltimore that distributes produce and plant-based grocery store items in front of our restaurant every Monday. It’s been running strong for five years. It gives us more exposure because we have long lines of people in the community coming to pick up the free produce being given away. It’s a way for us to give back and be a social enterprise. 

Congrats on your forthcoming second restaurant! What are your hopes for your second Land of Kush?

It’s simple. We just want to be bigger and better in our next space on the east side of town. The second location will allow us to do more on-site events at the restaurant which customers have requested in the past. The space will allow us to experiment more with the menu and put out some items that we are unable to prepare and offer at the current location. We’re really excited about opening a second location and getting to the next level.

For more information on the Land of Kush, visit their website 

For a free toolkit to introduce a Meatless Monday program to your restaurant operation, download the Meatless Monday Restaurant Program Guide

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