Laricia Chandler Baker, aka “Chef Fab,” is the owner of the new Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat (CBINM). Drive or stroll down 53rd street in Hyde Park and just a few steps shy of 53rd and Kenwood; you will find this trendy dining hot spot on any given day with lines outside the door. Located in the bustling Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, Chef Fab and CBINM are serving up healthy, vegetarian, and vegan (meatless and plant-based) versions of some local Chicago food faves. Items on her menu include the Pizza Poof, Chicago Style Hot Dog, Chitown Chik’in and Mild Sauce, Lil Italy Lasagna, Hoagies, Bucktown Bratwurst, Who Betta Burger. In addition, they have added their unique twist to other well-known dishes such as the Philly Cheesesteak, Not Your Average Nachos, Patty Melt, Talk About It Taco, and even Gumbo. If you need some “sweet libations,” take your pick – The Bad & Boujee, Anti-Bad Vibes, or The Hulk for your smoothie options or shake things up with one of their delicious shakes, Ice-Ice Baby, Epitome Berry or the Cookie Monster.
During my visit, I tried the Pizza Poof and the Who Betta burger. It was hard to believe what I was enjoying was vegan. The Pizza Poof tasted like the pizza puffs I grew up with and enjoyed. The burger was grilled to perfection with fresh vegetables and a delicious sauce. My 5-year old son took one bite, and my burger became his burger. CBINM is kid-tasted-and-approved. They are not creating a healthier lifestyle for Chicagoans only; people travel from all over the world to taste the unique dishes that they offer. She has been featured on Fox32’s Good Day Chicago, the Lovin’ Local segment, The Jam TV Show on Facebook Live, and other news publications, and praised as one of Chicago’s most visited must-see eateries.
Laricia Baker is a young, Black female entrepreneur under 40. She employs and trains young people, teaching them the importance of excellent customer service and other skills that they will need in life. She instills a culture of excellence to her staff, which her customers have become accustomed to and appreciate. She is a socialite, a pillar of success in our community, and an example to the younger generation of the benefits of hard work, drive and focus. I was pleased to sit down with this entrepreneur and talk about her growing businesses.
Kim Durden (KD): You have no formal culinary training, and you are a self-taught chef. What ignited your love for cooking? And why vegan, vegetarian?
Laricia Chandler Baker (C Fab): Yes, I am self-taught. Many of my friends are chefs, so they did help me out with a lot of it. I already knew how to cook and always had a passion for cooking. When I became a vegetarian, I used the tools I learned from them to create my meatless versions of the foods they prepared and that I enjoyed. The idea for CBINM was sparked due to the limited dining options I had as a vegetarian when going out to eat with my friends and family. I said to myself, “let me just start cooking my own foods” Eventually, CBINM was born.
KD: In your bio, you used the word flexitarian. Can you please explain to us what this means?
C Fab: (laughing) It is a real word that is in the dictionary. A flexitarian is transitioning from eating meat but still in the middle, riding the wave. But I am a vegetarian – I do not eat meat, but I do indulge in cheese.
KD: Congratulations on getting more than 17k followers in less than a year. That is phenomenal. What do you credit for your success since opening CBINM in 2019 and remaining successful, especially during a pandemic?
C Fab: Yes, it was like a big boom! My customers are amazing. I have so many who come back every day to dine with us, even those who are not vegan or vegetarian.
We make a lot of Chicago “fun” food like a vegan pizza puff (i.e., Pizza Poof), a Chicago-style hot dog, our version of Harold’s chicken that we call the “Chi-town Chik’in and Mild, sprinkled with lemon pepper. So, what keeps us going is the food. The food has people saying, “Oh my God, I’ve got to come back tomorrow.” We have customers who come to us 15 times within a two-week timeframe. You know, we offer flavorful, delicious Chicago vegan food that you cannot find anywhere else. We love it and take pride in that, and people keep returning.
KD: Self-taught chef and fashion designer – two industries where you have to remain relevant, be engaging, and always stay current with trends that seem to change. Are you still doing fashion? If so, how are you juggling the two with all of the other hats that you wear?
C Fab: I was pregnant during the opening of CBINM and a new mommy while operating two businesses. In addition to the restaurant, I run an online-only boutique, Epitome, which provides fashionable exclusive apparel for men and women. I started this business in 2012 but just relaunched last week. We sold out of 50% of our inventory in one day. It is hard, but I make it happen. I wake up with my baby and phone in one hand, and on the computer with the other. Social media is critical. I have a lot of followers whom I’ve gotten to know, so I post what I think they want to eat or wear, and it works.
KD: August is National Black Business Month. In what ways do you celebrate and/or support other Black businesses?
C Fab: I am all about collaboration. I am currently working with two Black women entrepreneurs; one specializes in baking vegan cupcakes, and the other wants to do a pop-up event at the restaurant. I am here to help my community and support business as best as I can.
KD: You are a leader in business and a beacon of light and hope during dark times for Black women trying to find their way and figure out their next steps. What advice or words of encouragement would you like to share with them?
C Fab: BE CONSISTENT! Do it, and do not give up no matter what. It can be frustrating but do it. When you are in business for yourself, you cannot focus on what’s going around you, even in this pandemic. You must remain focused on your goals and do what you set out to do. If you have to use the last $10 in your pocket, do it. I have to say that during these tough times, we have to unite and support each other. We are so much better and stronger together.
KD: Do you have any other projects or special announcements that you would like our readers to know?
C Fab: Follow, Like, & support Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat on Facebook and Instagram, (social media handle for both – @cantbelieveitsnotmeatinc). CBINM customers can now order their food online at https://cantbelieveitsnotmeat.com/. Carry-out and outdoor dining available – visit us at 1368 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL, or call and order ahead at 773-675-8208. Please also follow Epitome, my online boutique on Instagram, @epitomeboutique, and Facebook, @epitomeincboutique. Shop with us at eptimomeshop.com.
So, whatever type of foodie you are: whether meat-lover, vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, one bite of Chef Fab’s creative dishes will undoubtedly please your palate and have your lips praising and testifying, “I Really Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat!”