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Waverly’s Greenmount Avenue gets a vegan kitchen

The corner shop named My Mama’s Vegan Cafe at 2915 Greenmount Ave. is one of a handful of Waverly businesses working to build a stronger and invigorated community.

Its chef-owner, Debonette Wyatt-James, found the vacant storefront and negotiated a lease for her vegan inspired takeout food offerings.

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“The diversity of this neighborhood amazes me,” she said one day this week. “I hadn’t counted on it.”

Wyatt-James, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, came to Baltimore via Silver Spring, where she had been a Macy’s department store cosmetics executive. She worked for some years at the Wheaton Mall but wanted to pursue a different career.

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“I used to watch my own mama cook,” she said. “I watched her make macaroni and cheese and potato salad. I myself am not a strict vegan. I’m more of a vegetarian. I like a little cheese sometimes.”

She said she was delighted when another neighborhood-based group, Waverly Main Street, noted her presence along Greenmount Avenue and gave her umbrellas, tables and chairs so her patrons could sit outdoors and enjoy, perhaps, her best selling entrée, a bacon cheeseburger that is actually vegan. The chairs reinforced the concept that this is a cafe, not merely a carryout.

She said her flavored cauliflower bits are also a popular menu item.

She said the idea of outdoor dining on Greenmount Avenue was so encouraging that she is now raising money to open a back garden eating area along the 30th Street side of her business.

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She works alongside her son, Khair, a chef, and her husband Devin James, who worked out construction logistics at the property when she leased it a year ago.

Nearby residents noticed her effort.

“She cares about bringing people to the neighborhood and not just being a carryout,” said C. Ryan Patterson, who lives on a side street near Wyatt-James’s business. “Greenmount Avenue is a place for small businesses and a walkable neighborhood.”

In the next several months, the facade on her corner property will be improved and the plexiglass partitions on the inside will go away. It’s all part of a grand design worked out by a not-so-well-known entity called the Central Baltimore Partnership, which is giving $123,000 to physically improve the restaurant. The partnership works out the details of architectural design and permitting.

The Partnership also is working with the developers of the handsome restoration of the old Waverly Hall, now being finished up at Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street. It also has big plans for the long closed Boulevard Theater, which recently turned 100 years old. The Central Baltimore Futures Fund paid $1.2 million for the Boulevard several years ago.

The Central Baltimore Partnership uses the Muldrow Fund, a commercial revitalization initiative focused on small businesses that activate long vacant spaces. Contributors to the fund include the State of Maryland and PNC Bank, as well as other donors.

It’s making an impact on this part of Baltimore.

The Partnership helped the Bottoms Up Bagels shop, on Greenmount near 27th, and the Motzi Bread bakery at Guilford Avenue and 28th. Watch for the changes that will transform the old Hooper’s restaurant’s dining room on East 32nd Street into Red Emma’s new home.

Sometimes the changes take a different path. The partnership’s affiliate, the Central Baltimore Future Fund, used its money to buy out a liquor license and permanently shutter a package goods store at Guilford and Lafayette avenues in the Greenmount West community. The old shopfront was then nicely renovated.

The Futures Fund also assisted the 2019-2020 renovation of The Voxel theater, formerly the Playhouse Theater at Charles and 25th streets. The theater hosts rock operas, among other performances.

There’s a long vacant carriage house on the 200 block of E. McAllister St. in Greenmount West that is undergoing a change. It is to become a center for natural dyes, including indigo.

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