Ruben Perez grew up in Highland Park. He remembers when the site of , which he opened with his business partners Luis Quismorio and Anthony Bermudez, used to be a Thrifty’s Ice Cream shop.
"I would come here when I was two-years-old and get an ice cream for five cents," Perez said.
Today, the store houses several brands of vegan ice cream. The frozen treat, a specialty item at most markets, reflects the Figueroa Produce owners’ commitment to their customers, including a dedicated—and growing—clientele of vegetarians and vegans who are making their home in the.
Perez noted that among long-time residents of the Highland Park community, though, there is a “higher concentration of people who are not educated about food.” Perez‘s parents, for instance, “grew up cooking with lard as part of a typical, Mexican diet.” Perez said that part of the Figueroa Produce mission statement is to “educate people that we are what we eat. We want to help people realize that for 99 cents, they can buy a fast food burger and feed one person, or [they can buy] vegetables and feed two people in a healthy way.”
Educating the Community
As part of their commitment to educating the Northeast L.A. community about food, Perez and his partners are opening Organics, a new store in Eagle Rock, where they plan to have cooking demos, chefs, nutritionists, and open forums on food-related issues á la Whole Foods. The shop will be located in the Colorado strip mall next to the , the Vietnamese eatery that is also committed to organic food and sustainable practices
Vegan Meals on Wheels
With the help of Chef Debbie Lee of —a mobile truck that specializes in Korean pub fare—Figueroa Produce also organizes (formerly Highland Park Din-Din-a-Go-Go). The popular, Tuesday night gathering of mobile food trucks is held in the parking lot next to their store. In addition to Ahn-Joo, several others in the rotating line-up of food trucks feature vegetarian and vegan dishes, including the Lomo Arigato, Vizzi and Mandoline trucks.
Figueroa Produce also offers a 10 percent discount on groceries on Tuesday night.
Bottom line, Perez said, he and his partners at Figueroa Produce believe that “quality food is a right, not a privilege.”
Having it Your (Vegan) Way
Genise Castaneda, who is in the process of opening Plant Food for People, a vegan fast-food drive-thru on York Boulevard, also grew up in Highland Park. Still a resident of her childhood neighborhood, Castañeda has generated lots of excitement for the drive-thru restaurant via held in conjunction with Figueroa Produce, where she also does catering.
Castaneda says the idea for a vegan drive-thru came from “hanging around the neighborhood” at places like , , and The York. “All up and down the block ... [I kept] overhearing people talking about wanting a place to get their kale salads and Boca burgers," Castaneda said.
Taking advantage of York Boulevard’s busy street scene--especially the vibrant night life—is a prime component of Castaneda’s plan for the drive-thru, which is scheduled to open on January 1. Castaneda wants to “stay open as late as the bars” in order cater to the same clientele that patronizes the mobile food trucks that congregate along the boulevard, especially during events like the monthly .
“We’re pretty excited about that aspect,” adds Castaneda, who lives just a block from her proposed business.
When Castaneda tells friends and family that she’s opening a vegan drive-thru in the neighborhood, “They say ‘Wow, that’s a good idea. I think we really need something like that,’” reports Castaneda.
“They’re surprised that it hasn’t been done before.”
Check back tomorrow for Part III of Patch's examination of "Vegetarian Cuisine Flourishing in NE Los Angeles."