It all started in a Citgo gas station on North Orange Blossom Trail.
That’s where Jenneil Ross, owner of the vegan eatery DaJen Eats Cafe & Creamery, decided to open her first restaurant. The reason? Serving food in a gas station was a way to make vegan options more accessible.
“Veganism has this reputation of being for people who don’t necessarily look like me, and also it has a reputation of not being able to cross cultures, which is absolutely not true,” she said. “If it could be as mundane as pumping gas, then you can enjoy vegan food, right?”
Ross, who goes by Chef Jenn, describes DaJen Eats as vegan restaurant with Jamaican flair. After being located in the gas station for a year, it is now fueling vegan cravings in historic Eatonville, the oldest all-black incorporated municipality in the U.S.
Ross immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was 16 to study law at Warner University. As the owner of an immigrant-founded business in Florida, Ross is part of a larger trend. According to the New American Economy, immigrants make up 20 percent of Florida’s population, but roughly one in three of the state’s entrepreneurs was born in another country.
After launching a tech company with her now-ex husband, she came to the realization that selling software wasn’t her passion. Her passion was food.
“Once I stopped burning stuff, I enjoyed cooking,” Ross said jokingly. “I realized that the happiest version of who I am is the best way that I can be of service both to myself and to others.”
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It's lunch time, dahling! Dahling, lunch today includes: Sammich: Jerk Chick'n Sammich / Buffalo Chick'n Sammich / Identity Crisis (half buffalo, half jerk)/ Looney Toona Sammich Build A Bowl: 1. Start with Rice and Peas 2. Pick one, two, three or all four of the following: with Jerk Chick'n, Crispy (Air)Fried Chick'n, Brown-Stew Cauliflower, Sweet & Spicy Cauliflower Bites. 3.Finish with Rainbow Broccoli Slaw and Grilled Pineapple Salads: Caribbean Crab Salad / Manley-Castro Salad / Toona Salad Lunch starts at 11. See you soon. Special dinner menu tonight: Jamaican Stew Peas and Rice. Dinner starts at 4 till close.
On the DaJen Eats menu, you’ll find Jamaican staples like jerk chicken (made with seitan, a wheat meat) and desserts like Red Velvet vegan ice cream.
In the dining area, you’ll find members of the neighborhood sharing a meal and gathering in a new neighborhood space to discuss ways to improve the community.
“I always say that there’s nothing we can’t discuss over food,” Ross said. “The restaurant is a way to get people at the table and then we can talk.”
As one of the leading voices on vegan cuisine in Central Florida, Ross is proud to share her passion through educational demonstrations and community outreach. There’s even a free vegan library at the restaurant.
“I think honoring the different cultures and cuisines in the community as a whole will draw more people towards veganism,” Ross said.