At 11 years old, most of us were concerned with playdates and school games, but Omari McQueen is different.
The young CEO of Dipalicious became the youngest restaurateur in the world in late August when he spent one week running his own pop-up restaurant in London. McQueen has become a bit of a celebrity in the U.K., winning dozens of awards and making appearances on cooking competitions for kids.
He is mostly known for his ardent love of vegan food and signature brand of plant-based Caribbean cuisine that has heads turning.
He was only 7 years old when his mother was diagnosed with hemiplegic migraines, making it difficult for her to cook for six kids.
She decided to enlist the oldest child in making dinner for the rest of the kids, but McQueen quickly proved to be the best of the bunch at making dinner. His Jamaican father tried to teach him how to fry fish, but McQueen watched a PETA video about meat and never looked back.
He initially started making fun YouTube videos where he cooked vegan Caribbean food. As the videos became more popular, McQueen decided he wanted to step things up a notch.
The precocious little boy contacted Roger Wade on LinkedIn, looking for advice on how to start his own restaurant. Wade, the 53-year-old CEO of a company that manages food halls across London, told NPR's Richard Morgan that he was inspired by McQueen's confidence. He told the young CEO he could run Dipalicious out of a stall at a Boxpark in Croydon.
Wade thought back to his own experience as a child selling candy to friends and decided to waive the 1,000-pound rental fee for McQueen.
Dipalicious was a huge hit at Boxpark with customers noting how amazing it was that McQueen was able to take traditional Caribbean spices and incorporate them into vegan cooking.
“I wanted to open a restaurant to bring people together through food without harming animals,” McQueen told VegNews in July.
McQueen's menu includes callaloo, barbecue jackfruit with breadfruit chips and pumpkin soup. He has his own signature dish, the Omari umami, and a list of sweet peach and pear purees with nutmeg dipping sauces.
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Today is the last day at @boxparkcroydon 😜 We would love to thank everyone for their support, love and help. @omarimcqueen has not even started with his amazing projects. Watch this space 😏😜 #gratitude #mindset #goals #determination #vegan #veganfood #vegans #veganchef #kidchef #boxparkcroydon #dipalicious
McQueen told NPR he hopes to make enough money to buy a food truck. His father is a bus driver, and they want to use the food truck to drive across England promoting vegan food.
"You can tell people that food is healthy or to be kind to animals, but they won't care unless the food is fun and delicious," he told NPR.
McQueen is planning to keep selling his food even though he starts public school for the first time this fall. His parents have been homeschooling him up to this point, but he is hopeful that he can continue selling his brand of vegan Caribbean food.
"I want to create food which everyone can enjoy," McQueen told AfroCulture Blog. "That's what great food is all about, to me — it's a way to bring people closer together, and that's what I hope to do with Dipalicious."