Recent addition to Downtown Brooklyn’s food scene, Brain Food is a restaurant with a unique approach to clean eating, sustainability, and giving back to the community. Brain Food offers affordable and healthy menu options, meal prep kits, a coffee club with the purpose of reducing waste, and only provide biodegradable containers, cutlery, and reusable bags.
Owners Ali Ahmed and Ana Cabrera spearheaded efforts to combat food insecurity among NYC students during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to provide aid to the homeless.
We talked to Ali and Ana about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and the story behind Brain Food.
DBP: Tell us about Brain Food’s mission.
Ana + Ali: Brain Food’s main objective is to bring the neighborhood high-quality, affordable meals that cater to all diets and lifestyles utilizing a sustainable eco-friendly model. Brain Food serves organic greens and grains, free-range organic eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and salmon that is farm-raised. Our proteins are never frozen, and our marinades and salad dressings are fresh and made in-house. We have also developed an affordable meal prep program of vegan, halal, paleo, whole 30 or keto meals at $5 a meal. Healthy, tasty meals should be affordable, and we try to take the guesswork out and make it as convenient as possible.
Brain Food started with a concept of taking comfort foods and creating a cleaner, more nutritious versions. We also created vegan and vegetarian substitutions of New York favorites like a chopped cheese. We also aim to create community by providing an atmosphere you want to spend time in.
DBP: Who are the founders of Brain Food?
Ana: Brain Food was founded by Ali. His father owned a grocery store in Harlem and Ali would help as much as he could. After Ali graduated from City College he opened his own grocery store where he was able to experiment with the menu and create some amazing salad bowls and add a greater variety of produce and unique ingredients. He went above and beyond by wanting to provide the community affordable quality meals and not just frozen and highly processed food. He outgrew the grocery store business and wanted to bring his menu to a sit down setting and he created Brain Food.
DBP: How did the idea for prepared meals come about?
Ana + Ali: During the beginning of the pandemic there was so much uncertainty. Everyone was quarantined and it was the slowest that business has ever been. Brain Food never closed, and we had a surplus of inventory. Schools had shut down and we learned that, for many kids, school is the only source of guaranteed meals. We also learned that shelters had closed their kitchens, so we took our surplus and created meal preps. They were created to be easily stored and distributed and most importantly affordable for all. In the beginning we gave so many away and asked all students to come in and pick up free meals. Then the community was happy to support us in return and pay for them at $20 for four meals.
DBP: How does the Coffee Club work?
Ana + Ali: The Coffee Club was created as a loyalty program that also helps minimize waste. It is a membership limited to a few people a month because of the significant discount we offer. To become a member, you purchase one of our mugs and then re-use the mug to purchase discounted coffees and espressos for a year.
DBP: Is there anything that surprised you about running this company?
Ana + Ali: The last two years have been nothing but surprises. We’ve met some amazing partners, vendors, customers, and staff! What amazes me – and what all these people have in common – is our resilience. Not only did we survive all that happened, but we still have a positive outlook on life.
DBP: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ana + Ali: My advice is don’t do it! No, just kidding. In my opinion you have to be your biggest fan. You need to be able to motivate yourself, cheer yourself up, hype yourself up, and always have that encouraging inner voice. As an entrepreneur you spend a lot of time with yourself even if you have a great support system, so make sure you treat yourself with compassion and positivity.
To learn more about Brain Food and donate to their charitable causes, check out their website here.