Vegan options in New Jersey have been hard to come by in the past, but suddenly seem to becoming more and more common. Even in Morristown, places like Morristown Pancake House offer vegan pancakes, waffles and scrambled tofu featured on their menu
and Beenie’s Ice Cream, which is scheduled to open in May on Morris Street, will feature vegan ice cream right alongside their other treats. The New Jersey VegFest has launched vegan pop-up shops on the last Sunday of every month at the Laundromat Bar and the crowds keep growing.
We reached out to Jen with some questions about what motivated her to launch this project and what her plans are.
What’s your background?
I am an artist who is a bit of a foodie and I’m passionate about learning and being outdoors as much as possible. As far as my career background goes, I am currently an Art Director and graphic designer finishing up my Master’s Degree in Nutrition & Food Science.
I am fascinated by the way our bodies naturally function and how the foods we choose to eat are the most important factor in our health outcomes. So many of us have been conditioned to believe that genetics and other factors leave us helpless to effect our predetermined health, but it’s just not true. The Standard American Diet is the main driving force in most of our biggest health issues we face as a country – obesity, heart disease, etc. This has been shown over and over is scientific studies published in various journals. And yet, we’re still led to believe things just happen and there’s a new pill for that or one to treat the side effects from the other pill you were given. We do have a choice and a responsibility for our personal health, but we often aren’t educated about how much of an impact our diet really has or how easy and delicious it can be to eat primarily healthy, plant-based meals. Health food became stigmatized and we need to correct that so that it’s just as fashionable to be healthy and happy as it currently is to make jokes about bacon.
What makes you think Morristown will support a vegan restaurant when other health food places have failed?
I think the NJ VegFest has shown that there is definitely a community looking for a great vegan spot to eat in this area. For The Plant Based Kitchen, the goal is delicious and easily accessible – the healthy part for customers is a bonus. I don’t know anything about the other places that have failed, but maybe Morristown just wasn’t ready for them at the time. It’s definitely ready now and even people that aren’t vegan or vegetarian or plant-based or any other label have seemed interested and excited about the idea. That is even more motivating and exciting!
If I’m reading your page right, you are trying to raise $140K in a month? Is that correct? If so, that’s a gargantuan task. Have you tried to get traditional backing, too?
$143K to be exact and it is definitely not a small fundraising goal hahaha. I decided on a Kickstarter because I love their platform being a give and take situation and it’s given me an opportunity to back some other amazing projects. I like the idea of having the community involved and excited right alongside me and I love knowing that they’ll get something in return as a my thank you for their support. It’s more fun to build a movement with a team and Kickstarter focuses on short, quick fundraising so it made sense for this situation.
Traditional funding is always an option, too. That becomes a little more difficult to acquire, though, when you are doing something new. Without having been in business for some amount of time to show banks that you have cash flow, they are generally hesitant to give out loans. It’s that funny cycle of you need cash flow to start, but many places don’t want to give money to someone who hasn’t already started and has cash flow to show. So what can you can do to get started? I saw an amazing space that became available and it would be perfect. Thing is, a space that amazing doesn’t stay available for long so I had to throw myself in and see what kind of fundraising could be done quickly. I decided to put it out there on Kickstarter and after their fees I calculated it would put about $130K in place which maybe would give a bank some confidence in seeing that there is plenty of interest in grassroots capital raised. Couldn’t let that opportunity go by without giving all of my energy into trying.
If this campaign doesn’t get funded, it’s not going to stop the mission. It just means it slows back down a little and that’s ok. Good things rarely come together easily and I’m more than happy to put in the work for a slightly slower build of this movement if that’s what it takes.
Do you have a location in mind?
Oh I sure do haha. It’s incredible and has the most amazing character to it. It is such a cool space and whoever ends up in it is going to be very lucky. I am so grateful and humbled by the kindness of all the Kickstarter campaign supporters so far. There are a whole bunch of financial backers and a ton of people sharing and promoting. It’s really awesome to have so much support.
Unfortunately, we’ve not raised enough yet for me to feel comfortable throwing my hat in to be considered for that space right now. Fingers are still crossed, though! If the campaign goes wild and we get all of the funding together, I’m prepared to immediately submit the necessary paperwork to be considered for the space if it’s not already leased out by that time. If we get funded and that space is gone, then the mission carries on with the search for a new space in town. I’m a big believer in what’s meant to be will be. If this space was not the space meant for The Plant Based Kitchen (even though I totally fell in love with it), that’s ok. It just means there’s something else that’s right for it and it’ll come together when the time is right. (Yes, in addition to beign sort of a nerd, I’m also a little bit of a hippie deep down.)
Until then, I’m going to continue working on building this movement. The Plant Based Kitchen is a little plan I have to make a big impact on our society. The beginning stages of an app are underway now and there will be more to come.
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