There aren’t many places in Baltimore where you can order a vegan cheesesteak, but now there’s one more. The Grub Factory, a Black-owned vegan restaurant, officially opened its doors on Sunday, May 14 at 1210 North Charles Street.
French toast platter with scrambled tofu, homefries, and coconut bac’n (Courtesy Photo)
With affordable hearty selections of pancakes, french toast, and breakfast sandwiches, the restaurant offers what Baltimore’s food scene has been missing: a vegan breakfast. But the menu goes beyond morning offerings, with savory vegan selections of gyros, reubens, pepper steak, shrimp salad, curry “chick’n,” and more.
The Grub Factory isn’t a typical business venture. It is a part of a larger organization, the Pan Afrikan Liberation Movement, or PLM, founded by Imhotep Fatiu in 1995.
“The Grub Factory isn’t separate from PLM, it is PLM, it’s a food extension of it,” said Fatiu.
Fatiu describes PLM as a “revolutionary organization focused on the productive transformation of African people.” It stages popular local events such as The African Redemption Lecture Series, with speakers such as Kaba Kamene and Dr. Patricia Newton; a monthly African marketplace, Soko; and a weekly African Awareness Critical Thinking study class. The Grub Factory does not have “employees”—rather, it includes communal service providers with each person in the restaurant assigned roles by the larger organization.
Breakfast sandwich (Courtesy Photo)
It all started with the Nigerian bean cake dish, akara balls. In late 2010, Hurani Ame brought the dish to a karamu (“feast” in Kiswahili) hosted by PLM. At the time, Ame and Heru Meritef both attended the group’s study class. At the karamu, Meritef tasted the dish and decided to use it as the center of vegan platters. By 2011, Meritef and Ame started a food business called H20, derived from the letters of their first names. They offered dinners from their homes in East and West Baltimore, selling over 30 dinners each time they opened.
In 2013, Fatiu offered to bring the business venture under PLM. They changed their name to The Grub Factory, gained local acclaim at popular events such as the Vegan Soul Fest and placed first in the annual Vegan Mac N’ Cheese Smackdown in 2016 and 2017.
“ stepped in and helped us with organization. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” said Ame.
(Left to right) Hurani Ame, Heru Mertief, Imhotep Fatiu (Courtesy Photo)
After three years of successful business, they began planning to open a brick and mortar location. In June 2016, Mertief was tasked to find a location in Baltimore City. By November, they were building a kitchen in their 1,300-sq foot restaurant.
“It’s a communal owned entity,” said Meritef. “We did it without any loans.”
The restaurant proudly celebrates African heritage, with small wooden sculptures of Ghanaian Adinkra symbols, and four original wall paintings by Baltimore visual artist Docta Toonz, among many other artistic touches. Toonz evokes captivating representations of Egyptian deities such as the goddess of war and healing, Sekhmat; scribe, Tehuti, alongside the after-life judgment scene depiction of “The Hall of Ma’at,” where one’s heart is weighed next to a feather. At the heart of the restaurant is a large painting depicting Ma’at, the Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice that is vibrantly and powerfully personified by a Black woman.
“We want to provide our people with quality vegan food and ultimately create a chain of Grub Factories,” said Fatiu. Meritef agreed. “We’re looking to build community here.”
Judging by the line pouring out of the door on the restaurant’s opening day, a chain may be inevitable and the community is ready to break bread—specifically, vegan french toast.