A Memphis-born vegan chef is working to become a beacon of health in the community with her new store Green Goddess Popcorn and Tea Lounge.
Omi Iyalaje, a wife, mother of six, birth worker, herbalist, motivational speaker and lifestyle coach, owns the lounge located in Binghampton at 3078 Summer Ave.
Open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Green Goddess Popcorn and Tea Lounge offers over 34 different international teas, including black teas, green teas, white teas and medicinal teas.
There are also more than a dozen flavors of gourmet vegan popcorn, at least three vegan pastry options and more. With flavors like Zesty Garlic, Gourmet Ranch or Caribbean Curry—made with organic curry powder, vegan sugar, coconut oil, non-gmo popcorn, sea salt and love—it’s easy to devour a bowl for $4.75 while enjoying the Green Goddess atmosphere and free Wi-Fi.
Iyalaje is optimistic about her new space and hopes to inspire more of the black community to embrace healthy eating options.
A vegan for 21 years, Iyalaje wants people to know that eating healthy can taste good too. She said a problem people have when they first encounter vegan food is that the options are repetitive—veggie and black bean burgers—or not palatable.
“Educating individuals on healthy eating options is my passion. I want to do workshops about healthy eating for the community, not necessarily about going vegan, but just adopting healthier eating habits,” she said. “We definitely plan on offering yoga classes, meditation, popcorn and movie nights, live music, retreats and much more.”
Iyalaje will also kick off a monthly vegan tapas tasting on July 1 featuring six vegan entrees and three cocktails. A calendar of events will be available soon at greengoddesspopcorn.com and on her company’s various social media sites.
For now, the primary focus of Green Goddess will be popcorn and teas.
“(W)hen you’re a creative, there’s only so much you can do. So I’m going to focus on the popcorn. I offer meal prep for individuals and I am also a personal chef. Maybe in the next two years, we will do a savory menu in the store.”
Iyalaje founded Green Goddess Vegan Foods in 2008 with a focus on flavorful vegan popcorn infused with superfood ingredients. The same year she launched her company, Iyalaje secured a contract with the Memphis location of national health food retailer Whole Foods Market. Eventually, she expanded to Whole Food Stores as well as cafes and coffee shops in Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta.
Her Green Goddess logo and character is meant to inspire and empower women.
“She is definitely an energy by herself. Her pigmentation is green because green represents life and without the woman there wouldn’t be life because we are the creators and givers of life,” Iyalaje said.
“Without the earth there wouldn’t be any vegetation. So we personified what that Green Goddess would look like in a physical representation.”
As she was creating the Green Goddess, it was also important to Iyalaje to have some positive representation of African Americans in stores.
“When you look in the marketplace in stores, you see a lot of African Americans in servitude positions like Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima. So, to see the Green Goddess, to see confidence and pride, to see love of self is what we wanted to represent when the Green Goddess was created in terms of the image.”
Empowering women is one of Iyalaje’s many passions. Her company’s sister nonprofit, Green Goddess Global, works to support women whose lives have been affected by domestic violence, substance abuse, human trafficking and poverty.
Participants in Green Goddess Global go through a nine-week program to learn to love and nurture themselves, learn healthy eating habits and develop entrepreneurship skills. The non-profit uses five cents of every bowl and bag purchased to help program participants. After that comes a six-month apprenticeship for the women who work with Iyalaje to package, season and bag the popcorn.
At the end of the six months, participants have the option of going to another program or staying with Iyalaje full time.
Iyalaje said she manages her business life by keeping her personal life in order and that it’s the best advice she has ever received as an entrepreneur.
“If you don’t have your personal life in order, then it’s going to be hard to have your business life in order. Your household is a business,” she said.
“How you do things at home is going to be a direct reflection of how you run your business. Before you take on entrepreneurship, you want to make sure your personal life is organized.”
(Email Erica Horton at [email protected])