When Shawnette Simmons Smith opened the Green Lite Café and Eatery across from the Somerset Cricket Club in Sandys, she really wanted to create an all-vegan eatery.
But the previous occupant, the Shabazz Bakery, had left too much of a meat-lovers legacy.
“I didn’t want to put the community into shock,” Ms Smith laughed.
So in 2015, she compromised, keeping Shabazz’ signature dishes such as steak and take, but adding lots of meat free dishes.
Her vegan dishes are made from scratch, and include several different types of burgers including lentil, chickpea, black bean and black eye pea. There’s also a vegan salad bar on offer, and vegan quiche and lasagne.
“I pride myself in using all fresh vegetables and all natural products that are not processed in any way,” she said. “I make my own soy cheeses and soy mayonnaise.”
Four years ago a customer asked her if she would provide vegan food for It’s Only Natural, a health food store on Princess Street in Hamilton.
“At first it was just Friday but then it grew and now it is on Wednesdays and Fridays,” she said.
But last week she relocated the town service to the Ambiance Lounge on Angle Street, on Wednesday and Fridays from 12 to 3pm.
The offerings are strictly vegan.
“When I was at Ambiance on Wednesday, for the first time, I had quite a few first timers,” she said. “They came back on Friday, and said they’d be back again. They complimented the burgers.”
She feels that interest in veganism is growing in Bermuda, but local restaurants aren’t keeping pace.
“Finding somewhere I can sit down and enjoy a full vegan meal is difficult,” she said. “My favourite place is the Fairmont Southampton. They have a Mexican falafel wrap. I love it. I go there quite a bit. Other than that, if I go out I have a pasta or a salad. I do patronise the Adventist bookstore in Hamilton and buy a lot of supplies from them. They have a really good fish cake made from chickpeas. Other than that I basically just eat my own food.”
Her mother, Myra Muhammad ran the Shabazz Bakery with another lady.
In her childhood she ate the steak and takes, fish and chicken at the bakery, the same as everyone else.
But when she reached her teens she became more health conscious, and also concerned about the treatment of animals.
While living with the Hebrew Israelites in Israel for 20 years she was able to explore veganism more.
“That community really helped me to be able to embrace the things I was feeling,” she said.
She returned to Bermuda in 2006, with her four daughters.
“They were raised as strict vegans,” she said. “But since we moved back to Bermuda, they found they love cheese. That is their weakness, but for the most part they try to stick to a vegan or vegetarian diet.”
Her daughters now help her at the restaurant, when they can.
During the week her clients are mostly from the Sandys area. Surrounded by four schools, including Dalton E Tucker, she sees a lot of teachers popping in for a bite at lunch time.
Her biggest challenge is that the cost of doing business in Bermuda is escalating.
“In the Somerset community there is not a lot of business going on,” she said. “I have to rely on the same clientele to patronise us. Every now and then we get different people. On the weekends we see people from all over the island, but during the week it is mainly people in the Somerset area.”
She said recently she had to let one staff member go because she couldn’t afford to pay them.
“I am trying to diversify enough to sustain myself without losing myself completely,” she said. “In the establishment here, I do pizzas, paninis, quesadillas.”
Her ultimate goal is to open a second location in Hamilton. She came close last year, but then her mother, Myra Mohammad, became ill in January and needed care.
“That just took the wind out of my sails,” she said.
But she hasn’t given up on the idea yet.
• Green Lite, at 15 Cricket Lane, in Sandys, is open from 8am to 9pm, Monday to Saturday. For more information see their Facebook page or call 234-1211.