Chef GiGi and the "RastaRant"!
Helping families discover their path to a healthier lifestyle through food!
The Swift Campus community continues to grow as we welcome Chef GiGi Lawrence and her “RastaRant”! Chef GiGi is looking to start a Food Truck business, but in the meantime, she is using Swift’s Shared Kitchen Space to accommodate the growth her business is experiencing now. “Being able to rent this kitchen in this phase of my business is amazing. The space is amazing! The equipment is great. I’m getting the production I need out of this space,” she said as she loaded out to head to the Trumbull, CT Farmer’s Market.
RastaRant was created to help families discover their path to a healthier lifestyle with the goal of providing “high vibrational”, delicious, colorful, flavor-filled meals for the entire family. The menu is entirely vegan, infused with the tastes of the Caribbean. Her passion for cooking began when she saw the impact her cooking had on her own family. “I started cooking at 8 years old, cooking for my father. We processed all of our concerns around the table. Those meals brought the family together,” the 36-year-old chef reminisced.
Lawrence said her approach to improving family health through food came from those experiences. The meal-time ritual can offset digital toxicity, pointing out that technology is not the best thing for the human body. “You see families at the table with lowered heads and hands curled into screens–disconnected. We all had meal-time roles. Someone would set the table. Another placed the food. It was a ritual that brought us together.”
As a Vegan establishment, the RastaRant offsets another kind of toxicity that–for Lawrence–is promoted through the processed food industrial complex. She was not always a Vegan. For most of her life, she cooked traditional Caribbean dishes using the meat-based staples of goat, chicken, beef, pork, and fish. That was until she and her fiancee saw the Netflix documentary, “What the Health?” back in 2012. The information motivated them to find ways to eat as healthy as possible. They began as Pescatarians (veggies and fish) until that became too expensive and they evolved into full Vegans over time.
When she was working as a Supervisor for a non-profit organization serving special needs children in schools, her Manager suggested she start a business. “I cooked for the students and staff in the classroom all the time. Vegan recipes can be very bland, but my background in Caribbean cooking allowed me to add full flavor to the dishes. My manager suggested I get a food truck. She saw that spark and here I am,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence’s business plans got a boost in 2021 through her participation in reSet’s Food Incubator. reSet is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the social enterprise sector, providing co-working space, accelerator, and mentoring programs and aims to inspire innovation and community collaboration. The food incubator is offered through a reSet / Hands on Hartford collaboration. 2021 brought together an all-female cohort, graduating in the May 25th live-pitch event–Foodie Showcase 2022: Women Who Rock The Kitchen.
Lawrence took the top prize and was featured on a recent NPR “Where We Live” episode highlighting food businesses launched by BIPOC and immigrant women entrepreneurs and the need to create an ecosystem aimed at supporting and sustaining their businesses. Hartford is well on its way to filling that need through the Hartford Culinary Collaborative, bringing Hands On Hartford, Parkville Market, reSet, Swift Factory, Forge City Works, Knox Inc., and Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner together to provide a sense of community, support, and synergy for food entrepreneurs.
Using the Swift Shared Kitchen space to facilitate her transition beyond the 10-foot by 10-foot tents she operates from at 5 farmer’s markets statewide was a no-brainer. She’s busy as it gets. “Thursdays I’m in Trumbull. Fridays I am in Stafford. Saturday takes me to Cityseed in New Haven and I’m at the Coventry farmer’s market on Sundays. I also do pop-ups at the West End Farmer’s market here in Hartford. This space is perfect for where I am in my business. ” Oh, and we love when our tenants say they are hiring! Chef GiGi needs to hire a dishwasher and field worker for the Farmers Markets. Contact her through the RastaRant website!
You can also order from the RastaRant for curbside pick-up or delivery as well from the website: https://rastarantexperience.com
To be inspired to start your own business, check this story out! There’s more help coming for community-based, social impact entrepreneurs!
June 29 NPR “Where We Live” episode https://www.ctpublic.org/show/where-we-live/2022-06-29/hartford-new-haven-food-incubators-see-growing-demand-from-women-bipoc-food-entrepreneurs