Much like a Turducken, the King’s Donut on Crenshaw Boulevard is a product of its many layers. Situated in South Los Angeles inside the shell of what was once a Taco Bell, its cases of gleaming glazed doughnuts surround an enclave where customers can purchase lottery tickets—the winners of which are taped to the walls and ceilings of the shop.
Sharing the same roof and just a few feet away is Jackfruit Cafe, a vegan restaurant that serves a meatless menu of soul food staples.
“Hey baby!” shouts the restaurant owner, chef, and sole employee, Angela Means Kaaya, as customers meander towards her counter.Known by many as Felisha (despite popular usage of “Felicia,” this is the correct spelling) from the 90s cult classic stoner flick Friday, Kaaya played the character that spurred the now oft-used and -memed phrase that is “Bye, Felicia.” Although she’s also appeared in many other films and TV shows—including House Party 3, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper and In Living Color—it was her role in Friday that’s widely cemented her in the archives of popular culture.
While Kaaya does have a bell on her counter that sports the “Bye, Felicia” catchphrase (someone gave it to her as a gift), she isn’t as quick to celebrate her legacy as the general public. In fact, she admits she was a little freaked out when a couple of years ago, her friend called to tell her she was “trending” on Twitter. Since then however, she’s embraced the cultural resurgence of her character.“There’s a reason for it; I just have to figure out what the reason is,” she told MUNCHIES. “I’ll find out why it’s come back so big, and why me.”
Kaaya opened Jackfruit Cafe about four months ago. She still does all the prep, cooking, and serving, and also acts as the cashier. Her menu is centered around its namesake: jackfruit, a large, spiky fruit with white flesh in the fig and breadfruit family. Jackfruit are nutritious and mild in flavor, and when cooked and shredded, they take on the consistency of meat. She serves the fruit multiple ways; smothered in BBQ sauce, jerk seasoning, curry, or vindaloo-style. She then spoons it into two-bite street tacos or in the signature Soul in a Bowl, which includes rice, beans, and plantains.
“Coming into the hood, I had to do this,” she told me. “I had to do a soul food spread […] to get people’s attention and to let them know I do know what I’m doing. I can cook. Trust me, I got you.”Her approach seems to be working, too. Although she claims to have a lull in the late afternoon, there was a steady stream of customers well through the off-hours leading up to dinner. Some are seasoned regulars, like Jairus Mays, who said he’s tried everything on the menu and eats there almost every day. Others are newbies who simply stumbled upon Kaaya’s black-eyed peas and plantains in their quest for a sprinkle doughnut.
Kaaya chose this location in Jefferson Park because she wanted to be where people are in greater need financially and nutritionally, she said. The area has long been classified as a “food desert”; a neighborhood with limited access to fresh, healthy food and full-service markets—and the blocks surrounding Jackfruit Cafe are are no exception. Dominated by fast food chains including McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, the area surrounding Crenshaw Boulevard and 30th Street is where Kaaya hopes to provide a valuable (and walkable) vegan option.
She is delighted to see people from the “deep hood” frequent her shop, especially, “elderly black folk” whose kids often push them to give up or cut back on meat consumption, and while she laughs openly at the oxymoronic relationship of serving vegan food inside a doughnut shop, the system is effective.
Such was the case when one young customer made a last-minute decision to go for a healthier option: “I went and got greens instead of a doughnut,” she told her companion.Jackfruit Cafe’s diners aren’t limited to locals either; many customers have made the crosstown trek from the city’s bougie Westside and other surrounding neighborhoods, said Kaaya. There have even been diners who’ve come seeking help after watching What the Health—a documentary that highlights the bleaker and more disturbing side of the US meat industry—on Netflix.
“I have people that just saw What the Health and they’re coming in because they don’t know how to be vegan,” said Kaaya. “They don’t [even] know what vegan is.”She has a personal connection to the area as well. Kaaya not only used to do stand-up comedy down the road at the Comedy Act Theater in Leimert Park, but she was also living off Crenshaw Boulevard more than two decades ago when the infamous 1992 riots broke out after white police officers were acquitted on all charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.“I remember when this whole boulevard was on fire during the riots,” she said. “I literally drove down the middle of the street and could feel the singe on my face.”
Kaaya’s connection to cooking is deeply rooted as well. Raised in a big family on her grandfather’s 175-acre-farm outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, she is a “farm-to-table” chef in its most original sense, learning how to grow, pick, clean, and cook vegetables from a young age. It was here that her path to veganism began as well, as she watched farm animals that had become her companions get slaughtered for food by her family.
“One time, they killed a goat that was my friend, outside my bedroom window,” she said, eyes filling with tears over the memory. “They hung him by his heels and slit his throat.”While she slowly weaned off meat entirely, her love of cooking exploded with the help of her son, Brad Kaaya Jr., a quarterback for the NFL team the Detroit Lions. Kaaya said she’s never happier than when she was making meals for Brad.
But Kaaya doesn’t believe she was put on this earth to do just one thing, a mindset she exudes on a micro-scale through her relentless multi-tasking. Conducting this interview as she sautés plantains and chops cilantro, Kaaya said she’s “talented with touch and timing” and every professional pursuit she’s fulfilled is related to this rhythm.Most of all, her current role as a chef.
“I’ve been a car salesman, I’ve been a stand-up comedian, I’ve been an actress, I’ve been a mom, I had a production company and after this, I have something really cool coming,” she said.