GiGi Lawrence channeled her love of cooking and veganism into RastaRant Experience, a thriving business that provides Caribbean-infused, plant-based meals. She was part of the 2022 reSET Food Incubator cohort and won first place at the Foodie Demo Day pitch event. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with GiGi to learn more about her entrepreneurial and incubator experience.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial? How did this business idea start for you?
GIGI LAWRENCE: I haven’t always been an entrepreneur. I was raised in Jamaica where my father owned his own truck company, so I was always around that entrepreneurial spirit—not knowing that I was. Eventually, I realized I have to do this.
I used to be a manager for a nonprofit organization that worked with special needs children. It was a great job; however, it wasn’t my passion.
I’ve always cooked for friends and family and they love my cooking. The challenge came in 2012, when my fiancé and I transitioned to veganism. When I started making vegan meals, everyone was surprised by my flavorful meals—and it wasn’t just salads. Everyone would always tell me I should start a food truck. So, that was in the back of my mind.
In January 2020, when I was pregnant with my son, I knew I couldn’t go back to a 9 to 5. I decided to tap into my passion, which is cooking.
I started making meals from home and selling them to family and friends, which led to new customers through word of mouth. Then, in 2021, the business was growing, so I visited Hands On Hartford to talk to Shared Kitchen and Café Manager, Molly Reynolds. She told me about reSET and the Food Incubator program. Everything unfolded from there.
NAN: What have you gained from participating in the reSET program?
GIGI: I gained a lot of knowledge about the business side, because at first I was just focused on cooking and preparing meals. reSET broke it down and helped me understand running a food business is more than just cooking or baking. A lot of companies don’t last because they don’t understand the entire operation.
So, I learned about having the right team members, making sure your accounting is good, understanding the profit and loss margins. The program really helped me with that side. And the mentorship is amazing.
NAN: How are marketing and getting your name out there?
GIGI: We use a lot of social media and we’ll be starting an email list soon. Eventually, we’re going to post on Indeed, because I need start hiring.
NAN: Tell us a little about your business evolution.
GIGI: Right now, RastaRant has two ghost kitchens at Swift Factory and Hands On Hartford. We’re currently in five farmer’s markets and we sell at festivals in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York.
Also, RastaRant is the official plant-based vendor for the Hartford Athletic soccer team. So, we do all the home games at Dillon Stadium. We’re also the first plant-based company in the stadium.
NAN: What’s next? Earlier, you mentioned the idea of a food truck.
GIGI: Before we have a storefront, I want to start with a food truck because I want to be able to move around. Right now we have a 10 x 10 tent, which is a lot of work to set up. So, if I could just pull up in the RastaRant food truck, that would be amazing.
I also want to release a cookbook at the end of the year so I can share my meals with everyone. I don’t want to die with my recipes. And I want to start cooking classes for the youth because they are the future. If they know how to cook and prepare healthy, delicious, fun vegan meals, then it’s a win.
Eventually, I want to get some of my meals into schools where there aren’t many vegan options, aside from salad. So, I want to get into schools and educate people about not necessarily vegan, but healthier alternatives.
NAN: Any advice or anything you wish you did differently?
GIGI: I don’t wish I did anything differently. I feel like everything happened the way it was supposed to.
One thing I would say is just start. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I had to figure everything out. I think I have the formula down pat now—how to start a business, how to build a business, and how to expand a team.
So I would say, just keep going. Don’t stop. Because if you stop, you have to start over. And keep believing everything will work out for you.