Cooking Up Big Business in a Home Kitchen

Back uptown in Harlem, Irena Capris, 32, is busy making vegan wraps and raw vegan cheesecakes in the tiny kitchen of the first-floor studio in a brownstone that she rents for $1,700 a month with her husband. Her three-year-old daughter, Roksana (who also goes by “Roki”), is her constant companion as she works. She runs a catering business and also hosts dining events.

After moving to New York City from Russia 10 years ago, Ms. Capris became interested in eating a vegan diet, seeking out eco-friendly products and adopting a zero-waste mentality. She started Clean Plate NY in December 2018 and had her first big catering job this past spring, preparing and delivering vegan wraps for 20 people at a makeup school photo shoot. This summer, she hosted “Earth Side Picnics” in Central Park, where all of the materials used were eco-friendly and the menus featured items like gluten-free buckwheat avocado toast with shiitake bacon and tahini date oat cookies.

“I live uptown and people often throw parties outside to celebrate birthdays and other occasions,” she said, “It’s fun, but the outcome is not — plastic, trash, wasted food, so I had an idea of putting together food parties and showing that low-waste parties are possible, and at the same time showing my craft, making dishes from plants.”

Ms. Capris often finds herself running back and forth from her own kitchen to her mother-in-law’s upstairs (she lives in the apartment directly above), all the while with her toddler on her hip.

“I have a support system, my husband helps me a lot on weekends or after he gets off work, and my mother-in-law is an amazing woman who lives in the same brownstone as us and lets me use her dishwasher and laundry,” she said. “I also sometimes shoot my content on her porch, while Roki, my daughter, tries to help,” she said.

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