Black-owned vegan restaurant, Baba’s Vegan Cafe, opens in South Central L.A.

“We really want to raise the vibrations of the community. For some reason it has been stuck since the ‘92 riots,” said co-owner Lauren “Anu” Wolley Ross says

Wo’se Afi’shabaka and his partner, Lauren “Anu” Wolley Ross, are passionate about creating spaces for African Americans wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.

Earlier this month, Afi’shabaka and Wolley Ross opened the doors to Baba’s Vegan Cafe in South Central, Los Angeles. Through their union, they are helping raise the health consciousness of the community and making healthy food accessible for local residents.

(Credit: Tina Sampay)

Afi’shabaka is the head chef at Baba’s Vegan Cafe, curating vegan dishes inspired by African cuisine. Wolley Ross is a Bay Area native and yoga instructor, providing a feminine balance that works to support her vision and path, as well as her partner, Afi’shabaka.

“We are not simplistic. We are complicated, multidimensional beings who need a holistic way of nourishment,” said Wolley Ross. “That’s something that has been lacking, especially here in South Central.”

In 2013, Afi’shabaka started catering food at events, as well as providing food at weekly pop-ups in Leimert Park. Hundreds of people visit the area every weekend, looking to shop with Black businesses and celebrate Black culture.

Afi’shabaka’s end goal has always been to open his own brick and mortar restaurant. He has become popular in the Los Angeles vegan community for his flavorful vegan dishes, especially his Jamaican style veggie patties.

The coronavirus pandemic only compounded Afi’shabaka and Wolley Ross’ challenges as they worked to open a brick and mortar cafe. When Afi’shabaka lost his father, Jamaiel Shabaka (Jeffrey Reed), in August, it forced him to pause and take time for mental clarity. 

Despite any and all challenges, through community support and guidance from the ancestors, the doors to Baba’s Vegan Cafe officially opened in November.

“My dad always said the race is not for the swift but for those who shall endure. That was one thing that stuck with me for a while,” said Afi’shabaka. “He would always tell me no matter what is happening around you, stay embedded in the culture.”

Growing up, Afi’shabaka noticed the difference in his home compared to his friends–from the food his parents cooked to the music they listened to and the art they had in the house.

(Credit: Tina Sampay)

His father was born in Compton, but frequently visited Jamaica and Ghana, where he gained a sense of cultural identity. 

“As the jazz scene kind of left and the riots happened, all the legends came to Leimert Park,” said Afi’shabaka. “My dad went there to learn and teach music and was one of the first to lead a drum circle in Leimert Park.  A lot of musicians lived in the area during that time.”

Afi’shabaka was inspired to become an entrepreneur while working as a prep for five years at Mr. Wisdom’s Speciality Health Food Store on Slauson Avenue. It was during Afi’shabaka’s time here, that he gained educational insight about the benefits of different vegetables. 

“Mr. Wisdom was a hidden gem. They used to call him the wheatgrass man. He had a lot of health and wellness products, as well as food like veggie patties and veggie plates,” Wo’se reflected.

Baba’s Vegan Cafe hopes to become a safe space for those of the African diaspora, to bond through food a collective sense of unity.

“We really want to raise the vibrations of the community. For some reason it has been stuck since the ‘92 riots,” said Wolley Ross. “There is no reason we should still be stuck in the same place that we were in 30 years ago.”

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