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Vegan vibe in Dorchester

Couple opens Four Corners restaurant to meet growing demand

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Vegan vibe in Dorchester
Jahriffe MacKenzie and Nahdra Ra Kiros are serving up vegan food and an array of juices and smoothies at Oasis in Dorchester.

Jahriffe MacKenzie and Nahdra Ra Kiros had passed the storefront restaurant in Four Corners innumerable times, en route to Allston and Cambridge in search of vegan meals.

“We would go all the way to Central Square from Dorchester, just to get a decent plate of food,” MacKenzie says.

Earlier this year, the Dorchester couple decided to take matters into their own hands. Ra Kiros, who owns the clothing and accessory retail business. The House of Nahdra, and MacKenzie, who owns Lawn and Beyond Organic Landscaping and fronts the reggae band Jah-N-I Roots, approached Chester Copperfield, the owner of the 340 Washington St. Oasis restaurant with a proposal for a joint partnership.

Last week, the pair opened Oasis Vegan Veggie Parlor, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with stews, lentil dishes, sandwiches and wraps, smoothies, natural juices and teas.

MacKenzie and Ra Kiros did no market study before opening the restaurant, but because MacKenzie had operated a vegan cafe in the Codman Square area and operates a catering side business with Ra Kiros, they figured the business would do well.

“We had a built-in clientele,” Ra Kiros says. “We knew there is a demand.”

MacKenzie adds, “We just know it’s going to thrive because we need healthy food in the community.”

The pair painted the interior space orange, yellow and green, with chalkboard sections where the day’s menu items are written.

They also share daily menu ideas with Oasis chef Alex Fort. The trio then cooks in the restaurant’s kitchen, which Copperfield built. Among the items appearing on last Friday’s menu were vegan mac and cheese, lentil stew and chickpea stew, along with a dizzying array of fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies.

Ra Kiros said the pricing is rooted in a sense of fairness.

“When we go out to eat, we think about what is reasonable for a plate of healthy food,” she said.

For example, an entree with a drink can cost between $7 and $11, depending on the items selected. The prices are competitive with other vegan restaurants in the Boston area — including Grasshopper in Allston, Life Alive in Cambridge and My Thai Vegan Cafe in Chinatown. There are several restaurants on Washington Street, including the Garifuna Cafe several blocks to the South. But the paucity of vegan offerings in the Greater Boston area — My Thai is more than three miles away — could give Oasis Veggie Vegan Parlor a competitive advantage.

Like their vegan competitors — and most other restaurants in the area — the Oasis owners don’t offer table service. Food is purchased at a counter. A half-dozen small tables and a row of stools by a window-facing counter make up the seating in the light-filled corner space.

The restaurant currently relies on Whole Foods as a wholesaler, leaning heavily on the chain’s organic produce for their dishes. But MacKenzie, who was trained in agriculture by the Urban Farming Institute, says he’s talking also to local growers about supplying Oasis.

Meanwhile, both MacKenzie and Ra Kiros say that the attitude with which they prepare and serve Oasis food is important to them.

“The love and energy you put into the food are important,” Ra Kiros says. “If anyone is feeling frumpy, they gotta leave the kitchen. We want to build a loving environment that people can experience in Dorchester.”

MacKenzie adds, “We want people to feel healthy and good about themselves when they eat here.”