A Veggie Tale
Brennah Lambert SBC’20 is a self-taught vegan chef who followed her taste buds to create inventive plant-based dishes for LesbiVeggies, her recently launched urban café in Audubon, New Jersey. (Chipotle Lime Cauliflower Wings, anyone?)
“Cooking is my creative outlet. It just happens organically,” she says. “I feel like I can taste with my mind. You know that some flavors are going to taste good together.”
But when it came to the business side of things, she says she took her cues from the experts at Rutgers University–Camden School of Business. Here’s her short-but-sweet veggie tale:
Seeds of inspiration
Lambert, a Lindenwold native who now lives in Marlton, rarely spent time in the kitchen before high school, when she adopted a vegan diet in a last-ditch effort to combat ongoing health issues. Eschewing animal products made Lambert feel better, and she knew she was a convert to veganism when, a few months in, she wasn’t tempted by the chicken at her favorite Wing Night. Her family was supportive but unfamiliar with plant-based cooking, so Lambert began experimenting in the kitchen. Before long, Lambert’s “meat-and-potatoes” grandfather was taking a second helping of her tofu scramble on Christmas morning.
In 2018, after an aunt shared Lambert’s food with health-conscious friends at the gym, they became the first customers of her meal prep and delivery service. She quickly settled on the name LesbiVeggies, which gives a nod to both her lesbian and vegan identities.
A year or so later, Lambert enrolled in “Raising Capital,” a course taught by Rutgers–Camden business school professor David Vance. In class, she learned how to dig into her business’s finances, using formulas and crunching numbers to ensure the venture had enough money to sustain itself.
“It made me start to think of things from a business perspective, rather than [as] a consumer,” Lambert says. “I feel like that gave me a leg up in owning my business.”
Putting down roots
Just weeks away from her spring 2020 graduation, Lambert decided to turn LesbiVeggies into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Between Rutgers classes, Lambert scouted locations and finally spotted a listing for a beautiful storefront in downtown Audubon.
After eight months of prep work, which included buying restaurant-grade equipment and developing brunch and dinner menus from scratch, Lambert opened her restaurant doors in February. In an interesting twist, restrictions on indoor dining meant that the new LesbiVeggies—like the original—was primarily catering to takeout customers for the first several months. But Lambert says the initial response was overwhelmingly positive.
“People were super excited about what I was doing,” she says. “When the first tickets started rolling in, I was kind of in shock. I wasn’t prepared for that type of response.”
By a weekday brunch in late June, the café was so busy that Lambert didn’t need to draw on her business school training to know that business was good. Indoor diners were savoring the Blackened Cajun Cauliflower Sandwich and the BBQ Chickpea Salad. Outdoor tables on Merchant Street were laden with sweet breakfast dishes like the Strawberry Cheesecake Waffle made with cashew cream. And other customers popped in to pick up takeout orders and smoothies.
As for Lambert? She was, of course, at the stove behind the frosted glass doors of her kitchen, putting her passion—and her business degree—to good use.