“When I was a kid someone told me that laughter was the best medicine. I’ve got a fair amount of sophistication, but really, I’m just a goofball who takes care of people,” says Angela Means Kaaya, chef and owner of Los Angeles’s Jackfruit Cafe.

Best known for her role as Felisha in Ice Cube’s Iconic film Friday, Angela has dabbled in a wide range of careers, from acting to modeling to stand up comedy to, now, cooking. Although these careers may seem scattered, love and ‘laughter,’ as she says, are the strong points of consistency throughout her career. She opened vegan soul food restaurant Jackfruit Cafe three years ago on Crenshaw Boulevard inside of a humble donut shop, and within four months of opening there were lines wrapping around the block. Angela has an infectious charisma and love that anyone who is in the presence of her-- and anyone who eats her food-- feels. She has love for you, love for her food, love for her community. Immediately when Lauryn and I enter the kitchen, she asks if we were hungry. As she planned out what she wanted to make for us -- getting increasingly excited as she lists off a variety of dishes -- I felt like I was at my grandma’s house, with its infinite supply of maternal love and good food. Eventually, she decides on the Korean jackfruit burrito, the BBQ jackfruit sandwich, mac and cheese, vegan coconut shrimp, and homemade hibiscus tea -- yes, this food was all for 2 people, and yes, we finished it all. 

Lauryn Shinno

Although Angela defines the cuisine of Jackfruit Cafe as vegan soul food, it is difficult to pin down as she pulls flavors from around the world in her dishes. She says, “We’ve got barbecue sauce -- can’t get anymore American. We’ve got a jerk sauce -- can’t get anymore Caribbean and Black. We’ve got a curry coconut. We’ve got teriyaki. We’ve got tacos.”

Why Jackfruit?

As its name implies, the menu of Jackfruit Cafe is centered around jackfruit, a large tropical tree fruit which has become popular in recent years with the vegan and vegetarian community as a form of plant-based protein -- particularly because of its textural resemblance to pulled pork. Angela speaks about jackfruit with great reverence, calling it a “godsend.” She says, “I can turn that jackfruit into tuna fish. I can turn that jackfruit into chicken.” Jackfruit also has tremendous health benefits, as it is rich with protein, antioxidants, and minerals like magnesium and potassium, and its environmental footprint compared to that of normal meat is almost infinitesimal, with one tree alone producing two tons of meat

Lauryn Shinno


Angela’s own journey with veganism is a touching one that explains the passion she has for her work: When her only son left for the University of Miami -- on the other side of the country -- she began over eating. “ I ended up a size 22 in 6 months -- that’s how much I was eating,” she says. After watching the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and realizing she “couldn’t put any more stress on [her son] by being sick and in California by [herself],” she decided to start juicing. After just 6 months, all of the weight and illness melted. “I realized this was my contribution. This is how I’m gonna use my servant's heart,” she says -- and she has. Angela makes delicious, healthy food that mimics the food that people are used to, seeking to help the most vulnerable people -- specifically black and brown people, who are the most medically affected by the consumption of meat and dairy. Angela passionately feels that one of the biggest ways we are discriminated against is what we consume. She says, “If you go to the hood, you can go 8 blocks, and the only food is something that’s going to keep them on dialysis,” she says. Mid-conversation, Angela’s eyes light up and she leads us to a room in the back. She proceeds to pull out a little pot containing a slightly browning, stubby looking plant. She explains, “Alright, this is a great analogy. So this is celery. I cut the stump off and I just put it in water. This is two weeks. Put a chicken wing in some water and see what happens.” Angela’s takeaway message is simple -- we are all made of living cells; when you give living cells, living cells, that’s when you heal and thrive.

Lauryn Shinno


Thankfully, Jackfruit Cafe has been able to stay afloat amongst COVID-19 crisis, but Angela stresses that this would not have been possible without the help of COLONY, the company that owns the space Jackfruit Cafe operates in. Jackfruit Cafe is just one of many restaurants in the COLONY’s West LA building that contains a collection of what they call “smart kitchens”-- 200-400 square feet spaces containing the capacities of a normal kitchen condensed into a smaller space, thus allowing for more chefs to operate in a single building. She says, “The city needs this facility to be open. Some places didn’t make it, because they didn’t have outdoor seating or they couldn’t adjust fast enough.” She says that with COLONY’s support, the majority of its vendors have been doing okay. This is also due to a multitude of community support, specifically organizations such as Supermarket and Support and Feed, that allowed Jackfruit Cafe to provide thousands of meals to places like the Boys and Girls Club, the Violence Intervention Program, and St. John's Hospital.

At the end of the day, Angela hopes that people will continue to patronize Jackfruit Cafe and go into a world that consumes less meat. The phrase she repeats throughout the interview is “food is medicine; medicine is food.” She believes good food should taste good and make you feel good.