Blenlly Mena is a charmer. Even over a zoom call you can feel her warmth and ebullience. She’s also a smart hispanic businesswoman whose take-out restaurant Next Stop Vegan, which serves Latin vegan food, has only grown in popularity since the pandemic began. Blenlly has big plans for the restaurant but stays grounded through her close-knit family. Her enthusiasm for veganism, her love and appreciation for her Latin culture, and her fierce belief in the importance of empowering women makes her a real role model. We asked her some questions and here are her responses:
What is your background? Where were you born/raised?
I am first generation Dominican, born and raised in the Bronx, New York.
What were the significant experiences/events that shaped your young life?
Being raised by a single mother was the most significant experience in my young life. Seeing her provide us with a hot meal every single day after school and taking time off to take us on vacations that helped us explore the country I was born in really enlightened me and instilled in me much gratitude and appreciation towards women, single mothers, and the country I was born into.
Were you bookish or sporty?
I have never been a reader and don’t think I will ever be (although I have tons of self-improvement and motivational books in my bookshelf). I prefer listening, so I am now into podcasts instead of books. Sporty? I am not sporty at all. Teachers used to always chase me around school to have me join a softball or basketball team (since I am 6’ tall), but I always declined the offer because I considered athletes to be too bulky for my so-called ” feminine style.”
Tell us about your family.
My family is big, beautiful (inside and out), very loving and LOUD. (Think Big fat Greek Wedding—that’s us!) My grandma, who just recently passed away, died of natural causes at 99 and was extremely healthy all her life. She left behind 7 children, 19 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandchild! (I might be missing a few.) My family is made up of mostly women. Independent, hustlers (for lack of a better word), hard-workers, fun, loving, united, supporters, nurturers, caring, elegant and very forward thinking through all circumstances and situations. My family is unique and very welcoming. They are warm. They are everyone’s best neighbors and everyone’s best friend. My family is and has always been in my eyes “the best family anyone can be born into.”
What has your career path been?
I graduated Baruch College in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, a major in Human Resources and a minor in Communications. Once I graduated at 20 years old, I got my first full- time job at a five-star hotel by the name of The New York Palace. I was a Human Resources Coordinator there for three years. I followed my HR experience with another full-time position at another five-star hotel, The Peninsula Hotel, where I worked for two years. I then switched career paths when I took a full-time position as a Catering Coordinator for the Hilton Midtown where I learned the ins and outs of catering and events. After working at the Hilton for a little over two years, I decided to move across the country and start a new life in Santa Monica, California, where I worked at yet another five-star hotel named Le Meridien Delfina. I was a Human Resources Manager there until I realized that corporate America wasn’t for me and decided to get my TEFL certification and go teach English abroad. Two years after arriving in California, I resigned from my managerial role and turned in an application to go teach English in South Korea. I arrived in South Korea in August 2016 and taught English to rural children ages 4 to 16 for a full year. In August 2017, I headed back to the United States where I then started my business Next Stop Vegan. Three years later, I am still grounded in America and running a vegan take-out Hispanic restaurant that serves the best and most flavorful Latin vegan food in New York City.
Tell us about the role that food played in your life and what inspired you to start Next Stop Vegan.
Food was the smell of a plate of mashed potatoes with hot dogs when I came home from school and I’d always ask mami for ketchup for my hot dog pieces. Food means celebrations with my family. It’s a continuous memory of family time and/or love and warmth from my mother. Food means love and care and this is what inspired me to start the restaurant. Next Stop Vegan = family, love, care and flavor leading our customers to unforgettable memories. When I first started Next Stop Vegan in South Korea in 2017, I delivered a unique service to my clients (ready-to-eat meals in the comfort of their kitchen). I delivered love, passion, desire, education and inspiration. I delivered a message. My goal was to help my clients learn about veganism and food. To see and learn that vegan food can be flavorful and tasty and not boring or bland as many think it is. Upon returning to America with this business model, my family (sister and mom) then joined me in this dream of mine and they helped me not only continue the vegan inspiration, but to add the Latin flavor to our food the sazon. And this is the mission of Next Stop Vegan: “To cook with love and creativity without compromising our Latin flavors so that our clients are able to celebrate and enjoy the wonders of vegan food.”
What do you see for yourself and your business in the future?
For myself, I see a Latina woman living her happiest life. Being in her dream home surrounded by loving family. For my Hispanic business, I see a continued loving and caring family-owned business that is now taking over the nation as the first take-out vegan franchise and breaking positive ground for the vegan movement across the nation and internationally as well. I see Next Stop Vegan in your local bodega or supermarkets with our products on the shelves.
What inspires you in general?
My inspiration comes from meeting new people. Traveling to different countries. Exploring new cultures. Listening to music. Dancing to music. My family. My dreams. My wanderlust thoughts and ideas. My desire and eagerness for more. My perseverance. My constant reminder to live my best life and my happiest life.
What is a favorite author or creative person whose work brings you joy?
I really don’t have a favorite author. I do, however, find significant inspiration through music/musicians. Music is my daily joy and sets my soul, body and heart on fire at all times throughout the day. So I hold on to lyrics as my escape for creativity, thoughts, joy and positive feelings.
Do you have a favorite quote that you use for inspiration or motivation?
My favorite saying that inspires me at all times is “TRUST THE PROCESS.” This saying allows me the opportunity to be free and think freely. Be in the present and enjoy this moment. It allows me to relax and set aside the “what ifs” and it reminds me that I need to stay present, grounded and grateful for the now and not the later or what happened before.