SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Opening a new business is no easy feat, but one chef took over a failing café in the middle of the pandemic. Salima Saunders, owner of Uplifters Kitchen, wanted to nourish and comfort every single customer that enters her newly-acquired café.

“To show my love for the people I was cooking for,” said Saunders.

Saunders wasn’t always cooking for others. She actually moved to L.A. to go to business school at USC, taking a job in hospitality management after graduation. She worked in catering as a side hustle and grew up in the kitchen with her grandmothers, so her passion for food was always there.

“It was really clear to me to see that they really felt food was love and it was their way of giving love and I think that really translated for me. I really wanted to nourish and support,” said Saunders.

She took this passion and turned it into a completely new career. Saunders jumped at the opportunity to take over Uplifters Kitchen just two months ago, right in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. She quit her job and dove head first into this new venture when the original owners decided to sell.

Now, the cafe' featuers a full vegetarian menu, offering everything from baked goods to salads. For Saunders, it's a way to show that veggies can taste as good as meat.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact when someone says this is vegetarian. Yes, it was. It is a lot harder to make vegetables to taste good,” said Saunders.

The menu is on the lighter, more fresh side with ingredients coming from California farms, but she adds in her Ugandan and Indian flair from her home cooking.

“I think of this new rendition of Uplifters Kitchen as globally inspired, but locally sourced,” said Saunders.

You can see that in her grandmother’s daal, a lentil and rice dish. The American influence comes from the biscuit sandwich, which Salima says is their best seller. It’s a buttermilk biscuit made in house with a roasted tomato. A slightly different take on the classic.

“It’s really meaty and hearty without any meat included,” said Saunders.

The owner also likes to help other women entrepreneurs, so she sells products from different businesses in her store to offer support.

Whether you are vegetarian or not, get a hearty meal at Uplifters Kitchen located at 2819 Ocean Park Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405.