Brick City Vegan is out to change your mind about eating plant-based. In their Newark and Montclair, New Jersey locations, founders Adenah Bayoh and chef Emeka Onugha offer mouth-watering, plant-based food that is better for you and the environment without sacrificing taste and pleasure. 

The duo serves up scratch-made biscuits, plant-based burgers, and more on a menu full of delicious fresh options.

Bayoh, a native of Liberia, came to America at 13, escaping the civil war that plagued the country from 1989 to 1997. Bayoh’s entrepreneurial efforts include an impressive mix of real estate and restaurant ventures. Her first restaurant was an IHOP in Irvington, New Jersey. She later expanded her enterprise into four other locations. She also owns Cornbread, a farm-to-table soul food restaurant.

Chef Onugha began cooking when he was only 8 years old. Inspired by his sister, he started cooking vegan dishes. Customers can experience traces of their Nigerian heritage in the flavor of the Brick City menu staples. Onugha’s mission is to make vegan food accessible and promote healthier communities.

At Brick City Vegan, Bayoh and Cheg Onugha create a positive impact through culinary efforts beyond the plate.

Photo: Courtesy of Brick City Vegan

What inspired you to get into the restaurant industry? Was a vegan restaurant always your first choice?

Adenah Bayoh: My grandmother introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship at a very young age. She had multiple business ventures in Liberia, including a restaurant, a bread factory and a farm. Being alongside her really inspired me. Although Brick City Vegan is not my first restaurant, I made the decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle many years ago, so BCV is very close to my heart.

You faced adversity and some significant obstacles at such a young age. Did that affect your approach to business? 

AB: When faced with obstacles, I don’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself. I look at each hurdle as another chance to figure it out and come up with something awesome. I’ve had my fair share of “no’s,” but I don’t let them stop me. I keep pushing and hustling until I hear that sweet, sweet “yes.”

Do you feel that Black-owned vegan/health-centered businesses get the same attention as non-Black businesses in the same lane?

AB: Historically, Black entrepreneurs have faced significant barriers to accessing capital, resources and opportunities compared to their non-Black counterparts. Furthermore, mainstream media and consumer culture may not always give equal attention or representation to Black-owned businesses. However, there has been a growing awareness of these disparities, and many consumers actively seek out and support Black-owned businesses as a way to promote social justice. In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the Black community centered around wellness and sustainability, and it has driven more of us to adopt plant-based lifestyles. This has definitely helped to elevate the visibility of Black-owned vegan ventures. There’s still a ton of work to be done to ensure we receive equitable opportunities and recognition in the market, but I believe we’ll get there.

You mentioned you were vegan. What made you choose that lifestyle? 

AB: Yes, I am vegan and have been for many years. I made the choice to become a vegan due to some health issues that I found myself dealing with. The food I loved growing up suddenly started making me sick, so I knew I had to listen to my body. It hasn’t always been easy because I’m a big foodie! I absolutely love good-tasting, satisfying food, and for a long time, people believed that being vegan meant we only eat lettuce, fruits and veggies. Brick City Vegan is here to show the world that a plant-based diet can be just as tasty and fulfilling as a meat-based one. We offer plant-based options for everyone, no matter what your taste is.

When did you open your first location for Brick City Vegan? What was the reception? 

AB: We opened our first location in the summer of 2021 in downtown Newark to an amazing reception. Newark is the city that raised me (shoutout to Weequahic High School), and it always shows me love and support. The restaurant is always full if you visit our Newark location around lunchtime.

How was the expansion process to opening two locations?

AB: Expanding to open two Brick City Vegan locations was exciting but challenging.  Between the planning and thenfinding the funding to make it happen, it took a lot of people to make it happen.  I have a great team of people behind me, though, so it came together. We successfully grew our business and positively impacted our communities by staying true to our mission of providing delicious, plant-based cuisine while prioritizing customer satisfaction and community engagement.

What are some health benefits of a vegan lifestyle or incorporating vegan food into your diet?

AB: Incorporating vegan food into your diet or adopting a vegan lifestyle can offer several health benefits, including reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers due to the high fiber, vitamin and antioxidant content of plant-based foods. Vegan diets also promote weight management, improved heart health, enhanced digestive health, better blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, and lower risk of foodborne illnesses. However, it’s essential to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D through fortified foods or supplements to maintain optimal health on a vegan diet.

What do you think makes people apprehensive about becoming vegan? 

AB: I think most people are apprehensive about becoming vegan because they worry about having limited food options or having to give up the taste of the foods they have grown to love. Luckily, Chef Emeka proves there are many plant-based substitutes for our favorite foods, from mac & cheese to seafood!

What are some of the most beloved items on the menu? Your favorite? 

AB: Our in-house burgers (we have the black-eyed pea burger, sweet potato burger, and chickpea burger) are some of our biggest sellers. Our customers love them so much that we now sell them in boxes of three. My particular favorite is our “create your own bowl, where you can pick your base, your protein source, all the toppings you can think of and dressing.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Brick City Vegan (@brickcityvegan)

Your inspiration for vegan cuisine came from your sister. Was your whole family vegan? 

Chef Emeka Onugha: No, my sister was the only vegan member of our family, which is why it was so clear to me how important it is for restaurants to have vegan options. Many families are now composed of people with mixed views on eating. It’s important to have establishments that can cater to all.

As you began your culinary journey, did you find it hard to stick to vegan cuisine?

EO: My culinary journey includes all types of cuisine. Vegan food was an area I knew could not be ignored, so I made it a staple in my menu offerings.

Do culinary schools offer enough education/training for vegan chefs? 

EO: I am self-taught, so I can not speak on culinary school curriculums.  However, I do have colleagues who are culinary school graduates who feel like plant-based cuisine is not given the attention it deserves.

Is building a menu based around vegan cuisine different from building one for a non-vegan menu?

EO: Building a vegan menu differs greatly from building a non-vegan menu. If I attempt to mimic the flavor profile of meat, I must find plant-based ingredients that still give the taste and texture of meat. If I am creating a vegan dish that issolely inspired by plants, I have more freedom of ingredients but am challenged to create something satiating that can stand alone and not come off as just a side. It’s a beautiful process, and I love the challenge!

What are some of the largest misconceptions about vegan food/cooking? 

EO: The largest misconception of vegan cuisine is that it is hard to do. With the right ingredients and recipes, a plant-based diet can be just as fulfilling (or even more so) as a meat-based diet.

What is your favorite item on the Brick City menu?

EO: My favorite item on the Brick City Vegan menu is the black-eyed pea burger, hands down! It’s everything I need a burger to be!

Do you have a favorite non-vegan dish you enjoy converting to vegan? 

EO: My favorite plant-based conversion is macaroni and cheese. I am amazed at how I can mimic traditional mac and cheese’s flavor profile and umami properties with plant-based ingredients.

What are some pantry/cooking staples someone should have if they embark on their journey into veganism?

EO: Some must-haves in your pantry as you embark on your vegan journey include liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, plant-based milk, plant-based butter, legumes and beans. These core items can be used as substitutions for meat or dairy ingredients and are also amazing flavoring agents.