LaRayia Gaston is clear on the real mission behind her popular Atlanta-based vegan bodega. The micro-market named LaRayia’s Bodega is equal parts community hangout and wellness one-stop shop. But it is 100% soul.
Nestled in the Ponce City Market, a food hall in downtown Atlanta, LaRayia’s Bodega is the first plant-based, grab & go market designed to address food access and justice issues. Originally founded in Los Angeles, it is also the first vegan, organic 99-cent store. According to its website, the booming establishment receives 150 to 300 customers daily and has become a hub for the city’s arts community. Building on her dedication to the unhoused in LA’s famed Skid Row neighborhood, Gaston saw a need for healthy food options and nutritional education in the south’s Peach State.
In an interview with ESSENCE, the former fashion designer turned documentary filmmaker shed light on her unexpected path to being the only Afro-Latina woman to own a vegan bodega in the city “I honestly didn’t ever see myself doing something like this,” she said. “I never thought I would have pivoted in this way, but honestly, it all played an integral part in everything that we do because I always liked to give food away. I became vegan at 19 before it was a buzzword. I’m 35 now, so I went plant-based because it really did help with my health, especially growing up, not having access to healthy food and things like that in the neighborhood I was in as a kid,” she continued. “It definitely played a part. So when I was able to give out free food, that was my form of tithing.”
Perhaps what has set her business apart from other plant-based eateries is her heart. A relentless advocate for her people, Gaston gushes over the love the community has for the space. “People just make a seat anywhere and stay for hours,” she said. “They really come and don’t leave—I love it.” Success as a business owner is not paramount for the busy entrepreneur; honoring what she feels is her life’s purpose is at the forefront. “If it’s only about money, God leaves the room,” Gaston said.