Vegan, Plant-Based Restaurant in Downtown Chicago is Now Black-Owned

In January, the Chicago culinary scene highlights its numerous vegan alternatives, including Native Foods in the South Loop (218 S. Clark). The famous vegan eatery has begun a new chapter as it becomes Black and employee-owned, thanks to local entrepreneur Dame Dia.

In September 2023, Native Foods achieved a key milestone. Dame Dia, the brand’s former Chicago District Manager, received an exceptional birthday present: the opportunity to own Chicago’s sole remaining Native Foods location. The community reacted warmly to this announcement, particularly those who were apprehensive about the possibility of closing the Chicago Loop location after the Wicker Park and Lakeview branches were closed previously. Dame formally took the control of the eatery in late November 2023.

Dame’s journey to ownership is one of resilience and community support. After migrating to Chicago over five years ago to be with his now-wife OnJaLee LaShay, he brought with him 15 years of food industry expertise. His career path began in Queens, NY, with him working as a dishwasher at Red Lobster and eventually rising to the position of General Manager. Before departing New York, he managed several restaurants in JFK Airport’s Terminal 5, where he met OnJaLee.

OnJaLee, renowned in Chicago as “The Connector” for her extensive marketing and networking abilities, has been essential in this attempt. The couple met at JFK Airport and decided to combine their abilities and passions to embark on this business venture together.

The revitalized Native Foods is set to debut a tantalizing blend of traditional vegan recipes and, in the near future, West African cuisine, highlighting Dame’s Senegalese origin and culinary skills. These traditional foods, which are frequently tailored to vegan preferences for his wife, are intended to infuse the menu with unique flavors and will be added later this year.

As Veganuary progresses, Native Foods cordially welcomes both Chicago residents and visitors to explore and enjoy its revitalized, culturally rich cuisine. Join us in celebrating a dream realized, a journey infused with ambition, community connection, and culinary creativity.

Written by PH

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