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Owners of Black-owned restaurants in Providence reflect on mission, serve their communities

Providence-based owners of The Glow Cafe, The Afro Indigenous Vegan and Island House Restaurant share their experiences

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2021

Owner Ricky Bernard said that students from nearby high schools frequent his restaurant, Island House.

Local businesses across the country are struggling financially and adapting to new circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants in Providence are no exception. The owners of three Black-owned restaurants, The Glow Cafe & Juice Bar, The Afro-Indigenous Vegan and Island House, shared their stories with The Herald. 

The Glow Cafe & Juice Bar

Priscilla Edwards is a former athlete who had an impressive basketball career at St. Bonaventure University after playing at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, New York. Through an entrepreneurial program at her high school, she started a business selling smoothies after practice. 

Now, she is not only the associate head basketball coach at Providence College, but also the founder and owner of The Glow Café & Juice Bar on Admiral Street near the college. The café, she said, seeks to introduce and provide healthy and affordable plant-based options to Edwards’ community, specifically Black and brown people.

“We try to really, really change the narrative behind fruits and vegetables and grains,” Edwards said. “I wanted to bring something that would uplift the community and bring awareness to their health and well-being.”

The café’s motto, “Eat. Drink. Glow.” guides its nutritious menu options. Available now are wellness shots, fresh juice, fruit and protein smoothies, açaí bowls, vegan Belgian waffles and something most might not expect to find at a juice bar: vegan Jamaican patties. 

The inspiration for the patties comes from Edwards’ West African heritage and New York City’s Jamaican restaurants, many of which offer vegan patties and juices, she said. 

“I wanted to combine my West African culture but also pay homage to the Caribbean culture as well because they have really, really good vegan food,” Edwards said. 

Edwards added that the community has embraced her business and its mission to spread the gospel of nutritious, healthy and price-conscious food. Currently, customers can order online for pickup or delivery. 

The Afro-Indigenous Vegan

Bree Smith, founder and owner of The Afro-Indigenous Vegan, describes herself as a chef, food alchemist, healer and teacher. Smith, a full-time teacher, started an Instagram food blog when she transitioned to a plant-based diet in 2017, she said. 

Two years later, she warmed to the idea of selling her vegan dishes to the broader Providence community. She said hadn’t seriously entertained the idea until her fiancé tasted her now-famous coconut curry lentil soup and said: “You have to sell this.”

Like Edwards, Smith’s goal is to “make plant-based foods accessible to communities of color …(and) to make dishes that are familiar and meat free,” she said. “That’s important for all of us. Our health is our wealth.”

One of her early recipes includes vegan soul food-inspired baked mac and cheese, which she says she has perfected. Her mac and cheese “still tastes familiar, looks familiar and smells familiar,” she said. Even her non-vegan fourteen-year-old daughter A’ssata enjoyed the dish, Smith added. 

Recreating familiar dishes like soul food or Caribbean cuisine, such as her Jamaican-inspired vegan oxtail soup, is to “show people you really don’t need meat,” Smith said. “I can cook any genre … you name it, I’ve pretty much made it.”

Smith said she “really learned to cook with (her) Nana.” Smith’s meatloaf and other dishes are the result of long hours in the kitchen, and are dedicated to her grandmother through her “Sunday Supper at Nana’s” bowls.

Each week, Smith cooks, packages and hand-delivers her Sunday Suppers to customers in the Providence area. The menu changes weekly and generally offers an entree, soup, drinks and Sata’s sweets, desserts baked by A’ssata. But some staples, like her hibiscus tea and tamarind agua fresca, are mainstays. 

Smith tries to distribute any leftovers to those in need, particularly older people, she said. When explaining why she personally delivers her food, Smith said, “I’m a people person. I hug people. I love meeting my customers because I want (them) to know how their meal was made … and that I use the best ingredients I can find. It’s a true labor of love for me.” 

Customers can order through Instagram, Facebook or email and soon, through the restaurant’s website.


Island House Restaurant

Island House Restaurant, a Jamaican-fusion restaurant on Broad Street, offers a variety of options including soul food, burgers and fries in addition to classic Jamaican dishes. 

Students at the nearby high schools, which include Providence Career & Technical Academy, Central High School and Classical High School, come to Island House Restaurant after school to hang out and have a bite to eat, owner Ricky Bernard said. He said he has a good relationship with the students, and his affordable five dollar menu and student menus offer them a cheap after-school snack.

“We became the fry spot,” he said. 

Bernard opened his first restaurant, Rhode to the Island, 14 years ago and opened Island House about four years ago. The name comes from his Island House Promotions business that promotes live shows, often reggae, and parties, he said.

For Bernard, opening a restaurant just made sense. His mother owned Sylvia’s, a traditional Jamaican restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica when he was growing up, and at home, he cooked every day and hosted Sunday meals for family and friends each week, he said. 

“It’s a known thing in Jamaica — Sunday is the most popular day of home cooked meals. Everybody goes all out on Sunday dinner,” Bernard said. “Every Sunday we would make our own natural juices.”

Currently, Bernard is working with Hope & Main, a non-profit dedicated to helping local food entrepreneurs, to bottle and sell his own fresh juices at grocery stores like Whole Foods.

In addition to being a restaurant owner, Bernard also cares for his community, particularly individuals on Broad Street experiencing homelessness. 

“That’s the next thing I took from my mom. She used to feed all the homeless people back in Jamaica … she was known for that. I guess I didn’t even notice it, but I started doing it at Broad Street,” which has a large population of people experiencing homelessness, Bernard said. “For the last four years we’ve been feeding the whole entire Broad Street out the back of the restaurant.”

Island House Restaurant is a family business, and Bernard said he’s training his son to eventually take over at the helm. 

Some advice he imparted onto his son is that “at the end of the day, this is the easiest job I’ve ever had,” Bernard said. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I love to cook; I’ve always been cooking, and now I’m getting paid to do it.” 

The restaurant is currently open for dining in, carry-out and delivery.  

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