“I’m vegan TONIGHT!” I declared after taking a bite of my vegan chimiburger, NextStopVegan’s popular dish, a spin on the Dominican style burger.
“I can get jiggy with it,” my colleague, Dondre agreed after his bite of approval.
I’ve toyed with the idea of being a vegan, but I will admit that my love affair with cheese is hard to break away from (especially goat cheese!). Apparently, for Blenlly, co-owner of this Bronx-based vegan meal prep/food delivery service, I’m not the only one with “cheese deep” excuses to not fully commit. When new clients attempt to justify why they’re signing up, Blenlly quickly reminds them that this is not a transition process as much as the first step towards many health decisions.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t commit 100%! It’s okay! We’re not trying to transition you fully.’ But we do appreciate the steps [one] takes towards that, or, at least to be more conscious when [they] go out. A lot of times we hear people say, ‘Hey, thank you so much for this experience. I’m a lot more conscious when I go out’, or, ‘I realize when I cook at home, I’m a lot more creative.’ I don’t mind it because we give them a new perspective on food and veganism.”
Unlike most ideas to start a restaurant or food business, NextStopVegan wasn’t born inside of a kitchen, at least one that was stateside. Thousands of miles away from the Bronx in South Korea, the beginnings of NextStopVegan started with Blenlly, who was an English teacher at the time, wanting to share vegan versions of Dominican style cuisine with her fellow colleagues and expats. At potlucks and food gatherings, Blenlly’s vegan appetizers and desserts were a total hit, being that Latin cuisine was such a rarity, to the point where her first client begged her to cook all of their meals for them until Blenlly left.
“The New Yorker in me was like, yeah, I can hustle here,” Blenlly laughed.
Towards the end of her tenure in South Korea, Blenlly had three clients, but the idea of starting a business back home didn’t fully stick until Ana, her sister, challenged her to meal prep and cook her meals. At the time, Ana was experiencing health issues and complications which Blenlly strongly believed a plant based diet would help alleviate. After being “hired” by her sister, Blenlly found new clients in two of her other aunts.
The stateside beginnings of NextStopVegan, Blenlly recalled, were rather exhausting. “I started shopping, and spending my money on groceries and would come back to my mom’s house to cook and prep.” Her mother was anything but convinced, seeing Blenlly’s latest endeavor as another “phase she’ll find herself out of.” She started cooking for her sister and her aunts at 1pm on a Saturday and was up until 6am the next morning still cooking her commissioned 15 meals. Yet, in seeing her daughter being committed and passionate about this, Blenlly’s mother was the first employee recruited to NextStopVegan. Ana later came on as co-owner to oversee the cooking, who jokingly judged Blenlly’s cooking as “bland” and “basic.”
“Of course when you’re a Domincan/Latino, you want to add the garlic and you want to add the sofrito, and the peppers, and I’m like, ‘This is too much work!’ I don’t like preparing it. So I used to be like, ‘garlic salt, garlic powder, powder everything’”, Blenlly laughed, until one day her mother snapped: “No no no! You need the fresh things! You need to peel the garlic! Chop it up! And smash it!”
Investing more into the prepping process for her prepped meals, Blenlly and NextStopVegan found further success after featuring their vegan sancocho on their Instagram account, which later brought in their first non-family client. “When you have a stranger sign up and they are willing to pay, you’re officially a business,” Blenlly teased.
The success of NextStopVegan not only lies in the amazing food that comes out of their kitchen, the location of a former Chinese restaurant which currently operates as their prep space, but the philosophy and business logic of starting as a meal prep/delivery service. Blenlly, to her and her team’s credit, are also helping to redefine the food business as a whole in the Bronx. When asked about the decision to start a meal prep business over a stand alone restaurant, Blenlly quickly noted that the importance to a successful business is in presenting opportunities for customers, new and old, to get to know you and become loyal to you, particularly when you are challenging the notion of “healthy food” or vegan food “with a Dominican twist”, Blenlly states.
“We get to be very creative without having to put in the additional labor of running a restaurant, in addition to having customers commit to us. If someone comes and takes out food, they’ll try it one day, they’ll eat it for lunch, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, it was good. Done.’ But if you have a 10-meal, or a 5-meal package, you’re committing to that experience for a whole week. So you’re eating one, two, three, four, five dishes and that can elevate your experience to the commitment level, where you’re like, ‘Wow, that was good.’ ‘This was mad good!’ ‘Oh my God, this is just everything!’ We wanted people to go on this journey with us, to commit, and if they are willing to not do it again, that’s okay, but at least they understand that this is possible. Vegan food is possible. They’re not just having a one time experience.”
“If you go to a restaurant and you have a good time, that’s great, but how often do you go back? Maybe every other month, depending on your finances and your commitment level, your experience with the waiters or waitresses. If they’re bad, then the service is bad, then the food is bad, and in your mind the experience is bad. And all of [this] can deteriorate from the vegan or plant based goal. So if [customers] can commit to this, they can commit to a longer, [healthier], long-term experience.”
NextStopVegan recently celebrated their one year anniversary. The summer brought in much success for the team as they were a part of the BronxNightMarket since the beginning, exposing the borough to not only delicious vegan Dominican style food, but to a philosophy that healthy living and eating right doesn’t have to come at a sacrifice. Their appreciation towards their clients is solid, as they frequently repost client stories on their Instagram, allowing followers to relive or capture the experience of receiving and unpackaging one’s meals for the week.
The future success for NextStopVegan will be an exciting thing to witness as Blenlly finds herself already with like minded company. “We are blessed to call this [location] our home. We’ve been impressed by how many people are vegan or vegetarian, or they know about it or they care about it. The least person you think, is already mindful. Every time I come out here or when people walk in, the person walking in, I’m like, ‘You’re vegan? Really? REALLY!? OMG GIVE ME A HUG!”
Blenlly believes NextStopVegan can be a space for many to identify and find their own healthy voice, particularly people of color who choose this lifestyle which is frequently associated with access to healthy food resources not predominantly made available in low income neighborhoods. “Our people are so beautiful, so knowledgeable. I want to [eventually] open this space for communication, one-on-ones, and intimate conversation.”
To learn more about NextStopVegan, be sure to follow them on Instagram: @NextStopVegan.
To learn more about their meal prep/food delivery service, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org