(Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Jerel Jefferies wasn’t always a vegan. Born and raised in Baltimore city, he said he grew up eating chicken boxes and McDonald’s. It wasn’t until college that he decided to forgo animal products and jump into veganism. 

In 2019, Jefferies opened Refocused Vegan, a restaurant serving plant-based comfort foods in Downtown Baltimore. With the eatery, he was on a mission to show people that vegan food does not consist of just salad and bland flavors. 

“I wanted to bring the veganized versions to people so that they could know that there are good vegan foods that taste very similar, if not spot on, to their normal diets,” said Jefferies.  

Jefferies formerly worked for Baltimore City Public Schools as an assistant principal and never had the intention of entering the restaurant industry. After his friends encouraged him to enter the first Vegan Mac and Cheese Smackdown, Jefferies won the contest. 

From there, he continued attending vegan festivals with his food and started holding his own pop-ups. These experiences led him to opening Refocused Vegan. 

Some of the customer favorites on the menu include the mac and cheese, crab cake, chicken salad and cheesesteak sub. 

Refocused Vegan recently landed on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) list of the best vegan wings in the country. Yelp also recognized the restaurant as one of the best Black-owned vegan restaurants in the country. 

Jefferies said that he is not trying to push veganism on anyone, but he thinks people should keep an open mind and try different foods to find items that they enjoy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants to close their doors, Refocused Vegan reworked its marketing strategy to attract more customers. Instead of advertising the trendy atmosphere of the restaurant, Jefferies started promoting delivery apps and the tastiness of his food.

Fortunately, Jefferies did not have to start a crowdfunding campaign or GoFundMe to keep his business afloat. Refocused Vegan ended up tripling its sales. 

Currently, Jefferies is in the process of opening Refocused Space, which will be situated across from Refocused Vegan. It will serve as an event space to hold comedy shows, open mic nights, local art exhibits, community events, panel discussions, tastings and a vegan marketplace.

Opening a business and achieving success has been surreal for Jefferies. He said he intends to use the knowledge he’s gained over the years to benefit other business owners and his community. 

“If you work toward something, you can attain anything,” said Jefferies.

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