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Durham couple brings 'flava' to allergen-conscious vegan food

Vegan Flava Cafe
Yah-I Ausar Tafari Amen and his wife, Ma’at em Maakheru, started Vegan Flava Cafe in Blue Dogwood Public Market.

After over two decades in the natural food industry, Yah-I Ausar Tafari Amen and his wife, Ma’at em Maakheru Amen, opened a completely allergen-free location for their brand, Vegan Flava Cafe. 

From traveling the East Coast as caterers to opening a food truck in 2014, Amen and his wife have dedicated their careers to providing a new take on high quality and intentional food service. Now located in Blue Dogwood Public Market, a cooperative food hall focusing on local business, Vegan Flava Cafe begun expanding their dishes and establishing a home base.

“Spending so much time in the natural food industry and having a joy of serving by way of cooking made for a marriage of what is now Vegan Flava Cafe,” Amen said.  

Vegan Flava Cafe has a revolving menu, and every item they serve can be modified to suit personal food allergies. Yah-I Amen said his primary goal in opening the cafe was to ensure everybody could eat there despite any allergies, something he said nobody else is doing in the area.

Jeff Boak, the owner of Blue Dogwood Public Market, said Vegan Flava Cafe serves the need of a specific and underrepresented customer.

“Flava is a cornerstone of variety — they have a wide range of meals, and everything is made from scratch on site,” Boak said.

Boak also said it is important to have places like Vegan Flava Cafe in public markets because it allows groups of people to have a range of options for buying food, while still being able to dine together. He said this allows people with dieting restrictions to share meals with their loved ones in a way that may not have been possible in the past.

Amen said a guiding principle of his life has been that food has the power to heal and change people for the better. This led him to create his program “Being Better By Eating Better.”  

Yah-i Amen, one of the founders and owners of Vegan Flava Cafe, engages with guests at the Blue Dogwood location soon to open to the public.

This program aims to help people start and commit to the process of changing the way they eat for the better, and includes personal shopping, chef services, cooking classes and counseling.

“People eat unhealthily because they don’t know how to prepare a healthy meal or have the resources,” said Sa’Naa Lenoir, a health and wellness coach who spent 15 years in the medical field before transitioning to holistic medicine.

Lenoir said she trusts everything on the cafe’s menu because she shares Amen’s principle that food is medicine.

Amen also said a key component of his cafe is the “flava” he brings to vegan food.  

“So many plant-based, vegan food items’ reputation is that it doesn’t taste good, so our thing was we’re going to make vegan food that tastes great," Amen said. "Not just good — it has to taste great. It has to make you want to come back for more." 

Amen said he is also branching into new projects, including a smoothie line he hopes to have running in the cafe by Friday.

Amen said that Vegan Flava Cafe is where he wants people to go when they want an eating experience, not just to eat for nourishment.

“The fact that people say all the time, ‘We can feel the love in your food,’ that’s very important to us,” Amen said.

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