Life & Restaurant Lessons With Adenah Bayoh Of Brick City Vegan (Ep 199)

publication date: Oct 18, 2023
author/source: Jaime Oikle with Adenah Bayoh



In this episode, Jaime Oikle of has the pleasure of hosting Adenah Bayoh, the founder of Brick City Vegan, who shared her inspiring journey from Liberia to Newark, New Jersey, and the lessons she's learned along the way. Adenah's passion for providing great vegan food and options for urban communities drives her vision for the restaurant. We also discuss how Adenah communicates with her employees, implements feedback, and utilizes social media for marketing.


Highlights include:

  • Adenah Bayoh's background and restaurant journey
  • The concept of Brick City Vegan
  • The challenges of running a niche restaurant
  • Adenah's passion for providing vegan food and options for urban communities
  • Communication and feedback sessions with employees
  • Implementing feedback in the restaurant
  • Marketing strategies, including social media and word-of-mouth
  • and more... 


P.S. Adenah's messages to fellow restaurant operators at the end are pure gold nuggets! Be sure to check out the episode.


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Life & Restaurant Lessons With Adenah Bayoh Of Brick City Vegan

Welcome. I've got a great episode for you with Adenah Bayoh, Founder of Brick City Vegan. Adenah, welcome. Talk about where you are, your journey, your story, your backstory, and I'm going to kind of dig in from there.

Adenah’s Backstory

Thanks for having me on your show this morning. I think by “what background?” I've been in restaurants since the age of five. I started my restaurant journey in Africa, a little country called Liberia, in a remote village for a foyer. My grandmother owns farms, owned restaurants, and she raised me. Naturally, I was with her all of the time. Anywhere she went, I went. I just learned from her from a very early age how to run restaurants. She was running restaurants in the marketplace in our village.

The restaurant back there is so different from than restaurant here, but I do see a mixture of that. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, we had a civil war that broke out in my country. In the middle of the night, me and my family kind of escaped. Not kind of, we escaped the Civil War. We went to our neighboring country. We walked to our neighboring country, Sierra Leone. From there, we sort of began on this amazing journey to come to the United States. That journey landed us in this beautiful city called Newark, AKA, Brick City, New Jersey.

I didn't know it was nicknamed that.

Here we are almost 30 years later, close to ten restaurants. We are here trying to leave our mark on the hospitality space.

Brick City Vegan

Tell me about Brick City. I got definitely have some interesting quotes from the website, but before I even go there, why don't you tell me about how that one started? It's a niche restaurant in terms of your targeting menu and so forth, is that harder? Is it easier? What do you think?

It's harder because we're making everything from scratch. All of our dressings, all of our biscuits, all of our patties, our veggie patties. All of that is made in-house. I want to say about 60% or 70% of our items are made from scratch. We try to be as minimalist as possible. We don't engage in a lot of processed food. We have some of the best veggie patties on God-green earth. We have a chickpea burger. We have a black-eyed pea burger. We have a sweet potato burger. When I tell you the black-eyed pea burger is the winner. Is hands down one of the best veggie patties I've ever had. It's about 5 to 6 ingredients that we make in-house.

The journey started in 2020-ish. Me and a good friend of mine, still in the pandemic, I have a concept called cornbread and my vision has always been to have a hospitality brand. A brand specifically focused on urban community, black culture, and giving people in those communities options. Started toying around with the idea of veganism and there came at the time urban vegan. We called it urban vegan when we first opened. We have now changed the name to Brick City Vegan, paying homage to the city of Newark that I grew up in, and came into as a refugee. It is just paying honestly to this beautiful city that has nurtured me all of my life.

On the website, it's by the way. Peace, love vegan. I thought that was funny. There's no planet B like as in plan B, like some better for the environment. I love this other one. Your body is the perfect machine. We're the perfect fuel. There's a lot of passion there in what you're creating. Talk more about that.

I think for me, I've been passionate in everything I do, to be very honest with you. I believe that passion is what drives the vision for me because the restaurant business is tough. You have to wake up every day with a newfound focus on the things that you want to do. I think when you have passion about what you're trying to do, it makes that journey just a bit easier. It's never going to be completely easy, but I think if you have passion. For me, the passion for Brick City Vegan is giving folks the option of eating great authentic vegan food.


When you have passion for what you're trying to do, it makes that journey a bit easier.


I think vegan food has gotten so processed over the years and so sugar-focused that we're trying to make things that aren't supposed to be vegan. We're trying to make them vegan. Whereas the focus needs to go back to plants. The focus needs to go back to veggies. The focus needs to go back to the amazing food that is just done vegan way. It doesn't have to be this over-processing thing. I just don't. I wanted to give folks the option of eating natural vegan food.

What I'm thinking of the first thing is the education part, talking to the consumer about those things. How do you convey some of those things to someone to try you out if they're a little bit Larry or they're tagging along with someone who wants to take that menu? How do you educate consumers about the different menu choices? Because it's not a regular burger. It's different.

Our tagline is, “It’s easy being vegan.” At Bricks of the Vegan, we have made a passion of we're not trying to convert everyone. We just trying to have you come in and enjoy a great meal. For example, in our Black Hot Pea Burger, we have these patties and we put it on a well-toasted, vegan brioche bun. We put our amazing in-house dressing that we make in-house. It's called the yum yum sauce. We put a little bit of the mayo, then we put the yum-yum sauce. Then we take this patty that you have the option to either fry it or you could have it cooked on the grill and it's crispy all around. It's not this mushy patty. It's just really crispy.

When you bite in, you get this crispy crunch that's laid on top of this bun, and it has salad and my favorite, obviously avocado. I eat avocado with everything. The avocado just sort of sits on there and then we pair it with either a salad or we can pair it with our sweet potato fries. Anybody can eat that. You don't have to be a vegan to eat that. My vision is not to try to convert people to be vegan. My vision is to try to convert people to eat amazing food, vegan or not. As we're doing that, being conscious of what we put in our food is always front and center of our minds.


My vision is not to try to convert people to being vegan. My vision is to try to convert people to eat amazing food, vegan or not.


Is the family still in the business with you at all? Anybody?

Unless you consider my nine-year-old daughter working yesterday, a family-run business, that's about it.

She was helping out a little bit. That's good.

She was helping out to register. She was such a pro. She's such a pro. Besides the thousand breaks she wants to take, she's a pro.

Thousand breaks. That's funny. She got to check her social or social feed, I'm sure. Make a TikTok or something. It is hard to run a restaurant and you've been doing that. What are some things that you guys do marketing-wise or operational-wise to minimize cost? Any tips that you've found that have been helpful to shrink costs so that you can be more profitable?


I think you have to pay attention to your vendors. A lot of restaurateurs don't understand that. To our vendors, we are their customers. When your inventory comes in through your doors, you have to make sure your staff is counting that inventory. I'm not saying your vendors are going to intentionally try to cheat you, but your job is to catch them when they do make that mistake. I believe to minimize your costs, pay attention to the vendors that are bringing food to your stores. Count it. Pay attention to the sub guy.


To minimize your costs, pay attention to the vendors bringing food to your stores.


Pay attention to the guy that's dropping your uniforms, your aprons, and things like that. Check those invoices, if you're charging for 300 aprons, they are delivering 300 aprons. You will be surprised at the things that you find. I always say to my staff, just like you try to upsell to the guest, your vendors are going to try to upsell you. You’ve got to make sure that upsell is agreed upon. Pay attention to your vendors is one advice I say to people that ask for it, pay attention to the vendors.

Building A Culture

It's a very good point because whether it's a nickel here or a dollar there or five, but over a month, over a week, over a year, it adds up to the bottom line. Let's go to the staff side. You just mentioned staff and staff tips. Hiring for you has been a challenge. Finding the right people, training. How do you go about building that culture inside the restaurants?

To be very honest with you, we have one of the lowest turnover rates at Brick City Vegan. Our turnover rate is about 8%. We have staff that come in there that stay a very long time with us. We pay well. We get free dental, free vision, free life insurance to all of the staff that work there at no cost to them. I think one of the things I always remind myself is you don't want to be a training ground for the next restaurant.


You don't want to be a training ground for the next restaurant. You want to train and retain your talent.


You want to train your talent and you want to retain your talent because often times I find we become this vicious cycle of a revolving door. It doesn't make sense for you to find talented people, nurture them and you see them walk out the door. The message to my team, my GMs, is hold on to your talent. Communicate often, have monthly staff meetings, have monthly one-on-one, frequent communication with your team, and the communication lines have to be clear and open.

You already hit it, but my next question was going to be how do you communicate with them? Do you do pre-shifts? Do you do meetings? You just talked about a monthly meeting. You talked about a one-on-one meeting. Let's go to that one-on-one meeting because a lot of times that doesn't happen with people. They just never get any direct feedback. What does a feedback session look like for you after someone's been with you for 30 days? What are you talking about? What sort of instruction and feedback are you giving perhaps?

We look at it as an information session for us, because sometimes when you're in it, you don't see because you're in it. I often look at, if you want data for your product or your restaurant, ask the people that work for you. That one-on-one session is about, “You've been here for 30 days, you've been here for a year, you've been here for 90 days. Tell us. What are we doing good? But most importantly, tell us about the areas that we need to improve on.” You have to be open to that feedback because when you're not open to that feedback, you lose out on an amazing opportunity to get better.

You won't get feedback again too if you don't pay attention to it the first time. The next time you go, “Everything's fine.” Anything comes to your mind from one of those sessions where someone said something that surprised you that you implemented that became part of what you regularly do anything kind of jumps front and center.

It was simple as hell but it was like wow I never thought about that. One of the employees started and said, “I see you guys are really big on the uniform but when I started you guys didn't give me one shirt.” It was mind-blowing. Now we're making a habit of giving three shirts where the employee starts because if I work five days a week, my shirt's going to get dirty. That was one feedback that I was like, “Nobody thought about it that way.”

The other feedback that I thought was very impactful one time was from one of the employees, she said, “Wouldn't it be great if customers can come in here on a regular day and randomly, if we see them, we know them, randomly they come in, give them a free meal. If a customer that we know has been coming here consistently with us. Now they're in power. At least during the week, we're empowering them to give at least four meals free.” The customer comes and places their order, and we don't advertise it. The customer comes to place their order and says, “You know what? Thank you for being a loyal customer. This one it's on us today.”

The power of random surprise is always as always appreciated. Everyone's like, “Are you serious? Are you kidding me right now? Are you joking with me?” Then you say, “No, it's on us.” They're like, “Wow.” Do you think they're going to tell somebody about that? Do you think they're going to share that?

It's their choice, but I always say, “No good deed, go and punish.” I always say. “If you put good, if the intention is to put good out into the world, that comes back to you tenfold.” It’s the intentionality behind it.


If the intention is to put good out into the world, that comes back to you tenfold.


Social Media

Talk about other marketing because conceptually every restaurant got to do social these days. Are you doing anything interesting? Is there a channel that you like more than others, whether it's Instagram or maybe you're getting involved with TikTok or anything you like to share your messaging?

I think we're doing all of it. Social media is sort of very tricky. I love it. I'm not a regular consumer of it because I'm just not good at it. I think it's a way to get your product out there. It's the way to get brand awareness out there. It's a way to market your product. For me, it's been a bit difficult trying to get a good match with a social media manager. Anyone out there that wants to manage my social media, please hit me up. I'm on IG. I'm on Facebook is Adenah Bayoh.

For me, it has to be a match. It has to be someone that knows your brand. Someone that's passionate about your brand. Someone that's passionate about what you're doing because they become your brand ambassador. They become that person that's not going to get the message out about what you're doing. Finding that work person and being consistent about it can be spotty. I think that is how you need to do social media and do it in a real authentic way.

I think you probably have, I would guess, an authentic and fun brand, not a real serious type of corporate type thing. It's someone who could have fun with that you're home with your customers, your color scheme, your menu stuff. They really could have fun but what about other more traditional marketing? Is there anything you're doing that's working? Whether it's something on Wednesday, a loyalty reward, an app thing, or anything you found that this thing is good?

We have an app, but for the most part, it's just been word of mouth, our Instagram, and just really putting out great content about the food. Let’s make it about the food, about the environment, and staying true to our intention. I always find one of the most amazing things is, if I can take what I do and turn that into service, a passion for someone else, it's what I believe is the magic in all of this. It's taking what I do and turning it into service.

It's fine, you keep doing this to me, but literally, the word I have highlighted next on my screen is “service.” I was going to ask you, is there anything you guys do? Because it's a quick service concept. I'm ordering at the counter, they're building stuff and I sit down myself. It's a limited service interaction that you probably have at your restaurant. Any ways you bring service into it that would be kind of above and beyond?

Yes. I think one of the things that we do, I firmly believe that the community that you do business with is the one that is going to elevate you. Everything we do is around our community and how do we engage the greater community? It's taking the service, taking the food, taking the environment, and saying to ourselves, how can we incorporate this into the community? Two ways. We do a lot of giveaways. We do a lot of events with the local school. We do a lot of introducing young kids that are in the local schools to veggie burgers. Is this an environment now where we can say, “Can we now start introducing kids to our veggie patties that taste amazing?” I'm not giving it to you that here's a vegan burger. It's about us giving them amazing food. That in itself is service. I think for me it's taking the things that we're doing on a daily basis and turning that into service for our guests and our community.

Adenah's Advice

We have talked about a lot of cool stuff today, as we start to wrap up, I want to give you a chance to hit something that we maybe didn't hit any parting thoughts, where's the wisdom for other restaurant operators, whether inside your concept, inside your marketplace, elsewhere around the country, because we obviously talk to people all over the place. Parting thoughts, words of wisdom, final messages about your restaurant, what do you think?

I got a few. I think for anyone out there who is on this journey, this beautiful journey of the restaurant, I think start with the intentionality of your vision. If you can say my vision is x, my vision is y, hold on to that vision. Hold on to that intentionality. I just read a book recently, and I read this book every year, and it's called Alchemist. Really, if you want something very badly, the universe kind of conspires to give it to you. I know the restaurant business is really hard and it's really tough but my message to all of my fellow restaurateurs out there is hold onto that vision.

If this is where your heart is, it is where you want to be. The universe is coming at you and a universe is going to give it to you. All you have to do is do the part of believing in your vision and holding on to your dreams. That's one part of it. The second part I want to talk about is the people that work for you. You have to understand that you are the head of it. Pay attention to your restaurant. Pay attention to the numbers. They don't lie. Pay attention to energies. Pay attention to the leaders in your store.

When your numbers start to get out of whacky, always understand there is some kind of movement, there's a shift in that store. Your job is to get to the bottom of what's happening and fix it quickly before the damage is too far gone. Understand that the people that work for you are stones. What I mean by they are stones, every diamond starts being out of stone. It just takes a little bit of pressure to make that stone into a diamond. Don't be afraid to apply pressure to the people that work for you.

Have your standards and make sure those standards get met. If they don't, it's your job to make sure that, A, check and make sure you have the right pool working for you. Two, check and make sure that they understand your vision and your intention. If not, you have to quickly realign and readjust. The last point I want to make is this. Come out. If you're in Newark, if you're in Montclair, visit Brick City Vegan, and my other concept, Cornbread Farm to Soul, and it will be one of the best experiences you ever had.

We'll have to have you back on in the future. We can talk about your other concept and so forth. I used to live in that area. We were talking before we started recording today, about 20 years ago, and it's a great area to be in. I was in between the two cities that you're in. It would have been a little bit in both and my wife was in Trenton, which was nearby too, but really good life lessons you just talked about there and restaurant lessons. I really appreciate you sharing that from the heart. I could really feel those messages.

The part about how you finish with people being stones and apply pressure, and you can really pull stuff out of people. That's a great message. Good stuff there today, folks. That was Adenah Bayoh from Brick City Vegan. You can find them on the web at For more great restaurant marketing and operations service, people, and tech tips. Stay tuned to us here at If you are listening, subscribe to us, give us a review where you're listening, click on us, like us, comment, and all that stuff. It really helps us. We appreciate you. Thank you so much. We'll see you next time. Bye, Adenah.

Thank you. Bye, Jamie.


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