She made her mark as a “mother of vegetarian” cuisine in Charlotte and left a legacy of empowering minority voices in the community.
Philippines native Josephine “Jyoti” Bayog Friedland, owner of Jyoti’s World Cuisine in east Charlotte and founder of the Asian-American Pacific Islander Democrats of Mecklenburg County, died May 1 after months battling leukemia. She was 67 years old.
Friends describes her as “amazing and kind” and “a woman of fire and passion.”
“Everybody would tell you she captured people,” her husband, Marc, said. “She was passionate and uncompromising.”
The mother of two — daughter Mainjari Friedland of Charlotte and son Prabhat Friedland of Washington, DC — had two other passions: food and politics.
“She was just this spicy, stormy, nutcase of a woman,” her daughter said during Thursday’s celebration of life service at McEwen Funeral Service-Pineville Chapel. “And no matter what her current passion or endeavor was, she wanted it to be the biggest, boldest, loudest thing ever.”
Friedland had collected thousands of cookbooks, was once featured on her favorite TV channel, the Food Network, and baked the gluten-free chocolate cake Gwyneth Paltrow devoured in the 2001 movie “Shallow Hal” filmed in Charlotte.
It was Friedland’s smile and cooking that captured her groom’s heart when they met 41 years ago in Manila.
“She got me with the first bite. I don’t even remember what it was,” he said. “She cooked so many things.”
Jyoti’s restaurant menu included more than 100 items with cuisine from around the world, from India to Ethiopia to Italy.
Friedland also had a laundry list of political and civic groups she was involved in for the last 14 years. A parade of local and state government officials and civic group leaders spoke at Friedland’s funeral for her, talking about her relentless vigor for everyone to be treated equally.
“Jyoti reminded us all we are in community, to be kind, to be understanding,” said Julia Simon, owner of Nourish Charlotte and president of Charlotte Veg Fest.
Along with reading a condolence letter from Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, City Council Dimple Ajmera talked about the personal and professional loss of Friedland. She’d made meals for Ajmera’s family during her campaign.
“She was out there in the community doing the work without asking for credit,” Ajmera said. “The time she spent giving herself to the community was truly an example to be lived by.”
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake said Friedland wanted to lift people up.
“She was an ever-burning flame toward the road to justice,” said Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte NAACP. “Jyoti was a woman of action.”
‘A natural cook’
Friedland, who held a bachelor’s degree in social work, studied business management at New York Restaurant School for three years after getting married and moving to the US in 1987.
Within weeks of beginning a job at Orchard Hill Market in Branford, Connecticut, she worked her way up from dishwasher to chef.
“She’s just a natural cook,” Marc Friedland said. She created hundreds of her own recipes from her.
The Friedlands moved to Charlotte, and opened Talley’s Green Grocery on East Boulevard in 1991. It was one of the first specialty natural food markets in Charlotte before there was Earth Fare or Whole Foods. It closed in 2008, but at its peak, the store had 50 employees.
A decade later, the Friedlands re-entered the food business, opening the vegetarian and vegan restaurant Jyoti’s World Cuisine on Albemarle Road.
Chef Julia Simon called Friedland “a mother of sorts of the vegan/vegetarian community here in Charlotte.”
The goal of Jyoti’s restaurant, Marc Friedland said, was to make vegetarian food that non-vegetarians would like.
The restaurant has been temporarily closed since September following Friedland’s cancer diagnosis and is now permanently closed.
“No one else could do what she does,” Marc Friedland said.
Fanning the political and civic flame
In the time between the grocery market and opening the restaurant, the Friedlands had jumped into politics in 2008 at the local and national level.
In 2016, Friedland even campaigned for Hillary Clinton for president while undergoing chemotherapy treatments during her second bout with breast cancer.
“Some people would make plans and do something — she would do something then make the plans,” Marc Friedland said.
Although Friedland never held a government seat, she was an advocate for empowering minorities. Friedland served in leadership roles in many Democratic party groups, including Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County and North Carolina Senior Democrats.
“She was never one to stand on the sidelines. Ella she was all about service and helping people, ”said Cozzie Watkins, chair of the NCDP 12th Congressional District.
It was Friedland, Watkins said, who recruited her to become the first African American president of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County.
She was also in several civic groups, including a charter member of the Rotary Club of Charlotte-South and a former president of the Filipino American Community of the Carolinas.
“She was a person who never looked to be out front,” said Mack, the Charlotte NAACP president. “She always looked for a way to get the work done.”
NC International Minority Coalition founder Willie Fleming said Friedland helped recruit members and gave the group a place to meet once a month. There are now over 100 members and the meetings have grown from two tables to filling Jyoti’s restaurant. The coalition has started an annual humanitarian award in Jyoti’s honor.
“As long as we exist, she’ll never be forgotten,” he said.
A legacy of ‘light’
Friends say Jyoti Friedland lived up to her name, which means “light,” with hermake things happen spirit.”
“Her life was all about helping other people, empowering other people and realizing potential they didn’t even know they had,” Marc Friedland said. “She wouldn’t want us to sit around and cry about it. Now, we have to carry on and do what she might have done.”
The last speaker to stand up during Thursday’s life celebration, former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, said Friedland leaves a legacy not only in Charlotte but the nation.
“She valued every single person,” Roberts said. “We need to echo her de ella love de ella.”
This story was originally published May 13, 2022 12:41 PM.