Until summer 2022, the city of Buffalo had no vegan grocery store. Donisha Gant wanted to change that.
On July 30, Gant, 25, opened Plantae, a vegan grocery store, located at 212 Grant St. After saving up for a year, Gant made her vision a reality.
Some of Plantae’s best-selling products include vegan iterations of bacon, shrimp and lemon chicken. Gant says the primary goal of her store is to provide healthier food options to those in Buffalo and Western New York.
“My main goal is trying to get people to switch out certain [foods],” Gant said. “So that way they’re not consuming food with so many preservatives, artificial food coloring and additives.”
Just before entering the 1,500-square-foot store, visitors will find the face of the building painted dark green with “100% vegan” written in white on the windows. The all-green color palette continues into the store, with grass-like walls in front of and behind the register. Gant’s employee and best friend, one Ashley Hardy, typically mans the counter, playing jazz music from the TV behind her while awaiting customers.
The two are so close that they call themselves sisters when calling out to each other throughout the work day. They became friends while attending Villa Maria College, and now manage the store together. They say their work dynamic is filled with teasing, laughter and support. Hardy describes it as “fire and ice,” but not to the point that they aren’t able to get along.
“It’s very laid back only because it’s not like a crazy rush,” Hardy said about working at Plantae. “It’s not a crazy influx of people. I could put on some relaxing music, [but] sometimes I have to turn it off because I will get sleepy.”
Gant was filled with energy on the opening day of her store. But there were undertones of anxiety beneath the excitement.
“What if nobody shows up?” she thought to herself at the time. “What if a lot of people show up?”
For the big day, the first-time business owner wore a green dress to pay homage to veganism. Gant says people were rushing in before the ribbon was even cut.
“I was razzled,” says Gant. “I was frantically setting up the sample trays and sample table. The doors were unlocked and customers just started flooding into the store trying to purchase things. I was just overwhelmed and happy.”
Gant says her store received an overwhelmingly positive response from the Buffalo community, with customers telling her things like: “Thank you for putting this here, we needed this in Buffalo,” and “I have never seen [a store like] this before.”
First-time customer and Buffalo resident Corrie Allen isn’t vegan but chose to come to the store because of her gluten and dairy allergies and the store’s proximity.
“I live way closer to here than going out to Tonawanda, so it’s nice,” Allen said.
Gant says she has enjoyed being her own boss, adding that it “feels less restricting” without someone “breathing down [her] neck.”
But being in the early stages of owning a business comes with its difficulties. Her greatest obstacle so far has been her inability to keep up with demand.
“I would love for my store to be a one-stop shop, but she needs time to grow,” Gant said.
She feels she is constantly playing a “game of catch up” to keep her shelves stocked for customers. Some products that used to take 2-3 days to get shipped in now take 2-3 weeks.
“Now things are taking longer, prices are getting higher,” she said.
Inflation and longer shipping times have turned decisions of what she should put on the shelves into a “jigsaw puzzle” of what she should restock.
“Because my customer demand is higher than what I anticipated, I can post a picture of something, and it would usually sell out quickly,” Gant said. “And then the turnaround time for it to be restocked would be a week or so, and then it happens again. So this is just a learning process for me, and now I’ve learned that when I order things, I order them in packs of two now.”
Gant someday hopes Plantae will go beyond just selling food. She wants to host educational sessions for children on healthy eating, toy drives and other community events.
But what matters even more for Gant is being able to pass her dream down to her daughter and any other children she might have if they want it.
“In my family, as far as I am aware, for the last couple of generations no one has had anything passed down to them like land or a storefront,” Gant said. “So I just wanted to start something new in my family, and I want to continue it.”
A.J. Franklin is an assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org