Angela Means’ Jackfruit Cafe has officially upgraded from inside a doughnut shop on Crenshaw to a spot in COLONY in West Los Angeles. If you recognize the name, Means is best known for her role in Chris Tucker’s classic 1995 film Friday, the woman behind the viral phrase “Bye Felicia!” Since then, the actress turned chef has shifted her focus to something meaningful and with a similar timeless lifespan: veganism.
Her purpose now as a mother and restaurant owner is to spread wellness and educate the masses on the positive effects of leading a vegan lifestyle. What started as a hobby soon turned into a passion, as she longed to make a difference in her own community. With that, Jackfruit Cafe came into fruition as a staple in the city, offering consumers a healthy alternative to the fast food epidemic which plagues our generation. As they say, “you are what you eat.” To be healthy both physically and mentally, you need the proper nutrients and foods to operate and function daily.
From the tiny doughnut shop, Means turned her business mobile, operating the Jackfruit Cafe food truck and serving thousands of people all over Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. One year later, she’s embarking on the next phase of her restaurant inside COLONY, the smart-kitchen space. Sharing the space with 25 other restaurant owners, Angela is equipped to handle all orders from dine in to pick up to online ordering. At the end of the day, she’s just excited to bless her community with “food that heals them.”
L.A. Weekly caught up with Means at COLONY a few days after the newly renovated reception area was built. That same night, local artwork was being put up as well.
Bring us back to the days shooting Friday.
It was crazy. I had a total of four days to film out of the 25 days that it was shot, it was surreal for me because I was truly in character. I became her. I chewed up my fingernails, I skipped showering, I literally created a bio for her. I created all of this stuff in her life, I put it in, and I just trusted it. I literally became this bitch. [chuckles] After the shoot, it was pretty hard on me because you have to leave it. When it resonates so real… like I was really her.
Did you think it would become this viral moment?
I did. When I first read the script, I knew that they wanted Chris Tucker. If it all worked out with him and the rest of the cast — it was cast perfectly. It couldn’t have been cast better. You know history, when I read it, I was like “this script is so tight.” If we get all these Def Jam comments, we’re going to blow this up.
When did you get into cooking and food?
I was raised on a farm in Milan, Michigan, so I’ve been cooking for large groups my entire life. My uncle was a farmer and he had a daycare in the summertime, a day camp. We fed 300 kids a day. Sometimes, it was their only meal. I remember going to the grocery store and we’d have three baskets just filled with stuff. They always had a sandwich, a piece of fruit and something to drink. Then on special days, he’d make macaroni and cheese with chunks of ham in his big crockpot. He told me, “you have to take care of people, that’s why we’re here.” And we did. Our farm was one of the major farms in the area and my uncle was a pillar of the community, so I started way back when.
When I retired from acting, my son was three. Once he started sports I did all of the snack shacks. One time Snoop League came to Calabasas to play, I remember this little girl who was 9 years old. She stood in front of me, she was like “this the best snack shack I’ve ever been to!”
What kind of snacks were they?
Shoot, you know the football kids. And you go and get your hamburger hot? Girl, I was grilling lamb chops! The parents were buying them. I was doing Hawaiian burgers. I was doing some major food.
How long have you been vegan?
I tried to go as a child. I realized that animals weren’t meant to be eaten. I knew that they were people. I knew that they had a place. So I tried to go as a kid, but you know, black families are like “nah.” [laughs] But I’ve been vegan straight for eight years.
How do you feel?
God, it’s night and day. My only regret — everyone says this who’s vegan for a while, is that I didn’t go sooner.
When did you first come up with the idea of Jackfruit Cafe?
I was a shareholder in a juice bar and the partners did not want to do food. They didn’t want to do it, so I left, and I went to the hood. I came across this doughnut shop owned by a Thai family on Crenshaw and 29th and there was a full blown kitchen.
It took a month, but I got in there. I was doing salads and little raw stuff. A woman came in one day when I was still at the juice bar and asked me if I knew about jackfruit. She talked about jackfruit tacos and a light went off. I wanted a whole food. I didn’t want processed food, I wanted something whole that would be something other than soy. Within six months, we had lines coming out of both doors of the Jackfruit Café.
Is it still there?
The doughnut shop is still there. When we opened, no one believed in it. They’re like “why would you do something like that?” Because black and brown people are the most vulnerable medically. They charged me something crazy, like $4,000 a month. So I had to give them $12,000 to get in there. They had a bet, they thought I was only going to last two months. But he didn’t know I was a country girl. He thought I was just a punk actress.
KGLH, the DJs were coming in and getting the food. They were taking it and eating it on air, and there was one DJ who refused to eat it. So one day, they caught her in a good mood. They were like “just try it.” She’s like “OK, I’ll try it.” Her reaction was over the top. The next thing I know, TMZ came. Zoe Saldana did a video. We Are Good News did an amazing video; it got a million hits. We totally just blew up.
Talk about the newly renovated reception area. Why inside COLONY?
COLONY is the brainchild of some former Olympic swimmers, one of them is collegiate and [they] have backgrounds in real estate, food and beverage. They came up with this concept to put 25 restaurants under one roof. We all have a private kitchen. You come into the lobby/reception area, and order off the kiosk and we get it electronically. We get the order in our kitchen, we fill it, we put it out on a shelf outside of our door, and somebody comes, picks it up and brings it. I never have to see people if I don’t want to. But I’m always out here.
There’s been a resurgence of vegan restaurants in the city. What sets yours apart?
Maybe because there’s a celebrity behind it, but I think it’s because we do all whole foods. It’s good food. What sets us apart? At the end of the day, there are so many restaurants that sell jackfruit tacos and jackfruit burritos, but it’s our flavoring and how I cook the jackfruit. Nobody cooks it like us. We put a spin on it, so it really feels like meat. Sometimes, you’ll get some jackfruit and it’s not even cooked all the way. Ours is very soul and very earthy. People would never know that it’s not meat.
What does soul food mean to you?
It means good-ass cuisine that just makes you feel good. I got a note from a guy the other day. He said: “Hi Angela, I just want to tell you that I appreciate you. I’ve been plant-based for nine months because of you. I’ve lost over 60 pounds. I was 319 pounds and now down to 259. I fast often and only eat green veggies. I couldn’t feel better. I appreciate you and all of the work.” So that’s why I do it.
Why is it important for you to promote health and wellness?
On this earth, we all have a calling that we have to answer, and I answered that call. My mother died of liver cancer and it was really tough. I realized that meat and processed food were the culprits and saw the results of a vegan diet. I have to follow all my instincts. I have to follow my gut. I have to follow the signs. All the signs led me right here sitting in front of you.
What are some goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Which career? [laughs] I’m going to follow COLONY. They’re going to have another facility. I love the model, it’s the future. It’s sustainability. I want to be hands-on for at least another three or four years, but my endgame is a sanctuary. We’ll do it out of container homes, old train cars. We’ll do a preschool on one side and an aging community on the other.