Healthy eating has always been a way of life for Akiem Jones and her family. Even from an early age, Jones saw the example left by her mother Barbara Ross Jones as she planted the seed of healthy eating by becoming a vegetarian herself. Store bought foods heavy in sugar were replaced by fruit growing gardens at the Jones’ family home in Harvey, Louisiana (La). Jones, a lifelong resident of Harvey, La., and graduate of West Jefferson High School founded Plant Bass Vegan Deli in January 2022 after working in corporate America for over 20 years. For Jones, life in the corporate world always had its drawbacks. The lack of freedom and independence contributed heavily in her decision to pursue entrepreneurship while creating a platform and atmosphere model for young people to be leaders in the Black community. Dedicated to providing opportunities for her employees, Jones knows the opportunities she provides to her employees could be of great benefit as they grow under her tutelage.
Growing the Plant Bass Vegan Deli movement has not been without its fair share of challenges. Despite the lack of outside capital to fund her restaurant, Jones decided the path to entrepreneurship would begin by building Plant Bass Vegan Deli from the ground up, while working as a full time employee to provide the necessary resources needed to get started. From the beginning, a passion for cooking vegan food was always evident. It is a part of her purpose. Many days, the Plant Bass Vegan Deli founder operated. Aside from the challenges of funding her entire restaurant, she learned a valuable lesson during that time, which has now helped her grow as a leader and businesswoman. The value of patience. “My obstacle was learning to be patient. To build something. It just didn’t happen overnight.” Jones explained to blkpreneurship.com. “I’ve learned to accept the failures and learn from my failures. And to take that knowledge that I have gained and just keep going forward.”
Although Jones admits “she is not where she wants to be,” as it relates to the growth of her restaurant, what patience taught her has begun to catch the attention of local media outlets. A recent appearance on local news channel WWL-TV for a live cooking segment has shined a brighter light on the accomplishments of the local chef who has now become affectionately known as Chef Jones. Sensing the moment, Jones knew everything she had been through leading up to that point had now come full circle. “I wasn’t nervous. I just recognized the moment.” Jones said. “Getting up early in the morning and grinding, sometimes being broke, sometimes being up and sometimes being down. It started to make sense.” One of her many highlights of the day included cooking in the same kitchen legendary chef Frank Davis once cooked in and receiving positive affirmations from members of the WWL-TV team after the food was finished and they were able to eat. “Just to see their reaction you know. It was very, very rewarding. It was amazing. It was love.”
With many of the challenges she has faced along her journey in entrepreneurship, Jones’ close friendship with Ramona Graham played a major role in helping see the light at the end of the tunnel. What started out as a close friendship in the mid 80’s, recently reignited into an inseparable bond which is now bringing the two business owners even closer together. Graham had always been a sister and a friend. Now, Jones says her (Graham’s) words of encouragement and support has helped her tremendously during these transition years when Jones needed it the most. “Just having someone that you have been knowing for 30 plus years kind of walk back into your life it’s like we have not missed a beat.” Jones said. “There’s been some rocky points and she’s been there. And not just as a friend but as a support just encouraging me and reminding me that hey you know this is a good thing that you are doing.”
Today, Jones has begun to express her appreciation by sharing the same love shown to her by inspiring others to pursue their passion and dreams regardless of whatever season in life they are currently in. Her message is clear and concise to those who are willing to listen. “It is never too late.” Jones exclaims. “People who know me (my family) will tell you it is not a surprise that I am doing this now or not a surprise I am doing something else. I am going to be doing something because I am very passionate about doing what I love and makes me feel good.
Her passion for doing what she loves is not without its most important element. People. Recently, she has taken part in an initiative to collaborate with other Black businesses on the westbank of New Orleans to launch the ‘One Love Movement’, which is a safe space for resource needy area businesses needing a spot where they (business owners) can be fed, feel loved, and be inspired. And for all Jones has accomplished in a short time as a business owner, her future vision for Plant Bass Vegan Deli is as bright as her smile when she walks into her building each day. A part of that vision includes healthier eating options for patrons, live performances, and a more community centered focus on helping people see the value in eating healthier foods. “I do see in the future where we will have live performances.” Jones said. “We are music people. Not just the food, but the music also.”
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