NEW BRITAIN – As more people are looking for healthier food options that still taste good, a husband and wife duo decided to fill this need in downtown New Britain with Vegan Bodega.
“Vegan Bodega is Connecticut’s very own plant based vegan deli,” Owners Leroy Knight and Jessica Albino said. “We’re trying to bring a health food store to New Britain. Our goal is to be a full service vegan grocery store. We want to keep doing our hot food menu and then add groceries.”
With their completely vegan menu and products they are trying to make veganism more accessible to the community and help grow the industry.
“We’re from New Britain and we were driving around and it just made sense for us to do this here,” Albino said.
“We were originally looking at a spot in Hartford, but we wanted to do two and the New Britain one ended up working out better,” Knight said. “Eventually we want to get into every major city in Black and Brown neighborhoods like Hartford, Waterbury and Bridgeport so people can access this food and you don’t have to drive to West Hartford to get it.”
The duo signed the lease for 95 West Main Street in July and immediately began construction. The approximately 2,900 square foot space is equipped with a storefront space and two full commercial kitchens.
“I started veganizing meals I used to cook at home like fried chicken, fried pork chops, rice and beans with substitutes, that was our fun thing to do, and there are a lot of substitutes you can make food taste like home cooked food,” Albino said.
Vegan Bodega is family owned and operated.
“It’s only us working in here; our daughter helps us too,” Knight said. “I’m the head baker and my wife is the head chef, but we are both able to make everything.”
The City of New Britain held a ribbon cutting Tuesday morning to welcome the business to town.
“We’re really excited for Vegan Bodega, they’re filling a niche. We don’t really have anything vegan based around here so there’ll probably be plenty of people in the city that will come out and look forward to eating here,” said Jack Benjamin, New Britain director of planning and development. “They’re also right in the center of the action so with all the new development projects going on around we expect there to be plenty of residents coming in to grab a bite.”
Vegan Bodega will be a recipient of the city’s new Equipment MicroGrants Program, which is a HUD and CBDG funded program to buy new equipment for the restaurant. They were presented a $7,500 check.
“We’re really excited to bring the MicroGrants Program to fruition because so many of our small businesses need just a little boost and so up to $7,500 is available in a forgivable loan for small businesses throughout town to buy things that they may need to keep their operation going whether it’s a freezer or printer,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “And I’m so happy to see small business entrepreneurs like Jess and Leroy thriving and for us creating an environment here in town for them to succeed and want to move here; they’re coming from Parkville Market and so I think that says a lot too. It’s definitely a unique taste but as you see a lot more people wanting vegan and healthier options and they are the people you want to trust to help guide you in that right direction.”
Knight was born in Alabama and grew up in New Britain. He is a graduate of New Britain High School and the College of Holy Cross in Mass. He was a football coach and a teacher up until the pandemic hit.
Albino is from New Britain. She always enjoyed cooking as a hobby and had a passion to cook for people. She was a secretary for a very long time up until the pandemic hit.
“We went vegan when our daughter was born. We wanted to eat healthier for our two kids and I almost went down a rabbit hole researching,” Knight said. “Then one of our friends, Mike Davis, he passed away actually from cancer, approached me and was like ‘can you do a healthy meal prep for me and my wife?’ He’s actually the reason we started the business.”
The duo started the business in October of 2020 under the name The Little Herbivores, delivering weekly meal preps to people’s homes.
The couple agreed the journey has been stressful but worth it.
“It is good stress because you’re building something for yourself; hopefully building it for our kids for the future and they can take over,” Knight said. “It’s been a long journey but it’s something I always saw we could do. I always wanted to be in our own spot, in our hometown, cooking food right up the street from our house.”
“You just have to believe and keep working; practice makes perfect,” Albino added.
Vegan Bodega is open Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., reopening from 4:30-8 p.m., Wednesday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., reopening from 4:30-8 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., reopening from 4:30-9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 12-8 p.m.
Ciara Hooks can be reached at email@example.com