She came to L.A. for fame. 20 years later, this auntie is a bonafide TikTok star

Leigh-Ann Jackson
Tabitha Brown at her home in the San Fernando Valley.  (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

“Hello there,” Tabitha Brown coos to social media viewers with her Southern drawl and reassuring smile. The 41-year-old mother of two has amassed more than 3 million followers on the youth-dominated mobile video platform TikTok since her March debut.

Fans of all stripes tune in for her charming vegan-cooking tutorials served with a side of moral support. The healthy-living influencer makes a connection through the screen that cuts through the gloom so many of us are feeling right now.

Longing for a new addition to your routine shelter-at-home menus? That’s when it’s time to watch Brown whip up jackfruit “pulled pork” tacos or air-fry a batch of okra in her humble home kitchen. You could be the furthest thing from vegan but still find that she has the cure for what ails you.

Tabitha Brown, a North Carolina native, is continuing her acting dreams, which brought her to L.A. two decades ago.  (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Perhaps, after a day filled with Zoom meetings, bleak headlines and general malaise, you could just use a virtual chin-chuck. Give her 30 seconds, and she’ll give you a tender pep talk and then sign off with “I love you.” Brown has also made her feel-good mission a family affair as the co-host of YouTube videos with her husband, Chance, and teenage daughter Choyce. (Her YouTube channel has more than 200,000 subscribers.)

Brown has also coined such culinary catchphrases as “Like so, like that” and “Because that’s your business.” And whether she’s singing the praises of garlic powder or offering an encouraging word, Brown’s voice is so soothing that some devotees have taken to Twitter asking for Apple to swap her in as the new voice of Siri. With a freshly inked talent agency contract in hand, the North Carolina native is now fleshing out the acting dreams that first brought her to Los Angeles 20 years ago.

We recently checked in with Brown to learn more about what keeps her feeling “Very good” (another one of her video bon mots), which local cravings she’s had to curb because of corona-closures, and what her burgeoning acting career holds.

How are you handling all of your newfound online fame?

I have so many young fans now that I’ve joined TikTok, which is mind-blowing to me. Them referring to me as “mom” or “auntie,” and my making them feel loved and have less anxiety, I love every second of it. It’s literally a minute or so out of my day to give someone that encouragement.

While you’re busy inspiring your viewers, what lifts your spirits?

Every day I wake up, that’s inspiration for me. I was sick for a long time. I had a resting headache and chronic fatigue, and many days I didn’t think I would wake up. When you’ve been to that dark place and you come out of that, every day is a gift. To be able to be in this moment, in a sound mind and a healthy body, I don’t really need anything else.

Tabitha Brown has quickly become a TikTok phenom. Her fans refer to her as "mom" or "auntie."  (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Many people dread having to cook so many meals at home these days, but you make it look so easy.

People watch it, see the fun in it and they say, ‘I can do that!’ because I do make it look easy. I cook from the spirit. It’s got to be what you feel in that moment. I want people not to be intimidated in the kitchen. If you have to use a recipe every time you cook, you don’t trust yourself, and that’s not good. You’ve got to learn how to trust yourself and talk to yourself with positivity and confidence.

Having a background in Southern cooking, was it difficult transitioning to veganism?

When I moved to Los Angeles, I made a lot of friends who were also actors and didn’t have family here. So every Sunday, I would invite everybody over. I ate fish, chicken and turkey then and I was known for my greens and mac-and-cheese and all that stuff. But then, when I became vegan, I was like, ‘Now, wait a minute. I’ve got to still be able to make these same favorites but vegan.’ I just started playing with the recipes and I made that thang work, honey.

I do have people sending me messages saying, ‘Girl, eat some meat!’, ‘If you want bacon, eat some real bacon.’ But all that doesn’t even bother me. I’m not going to judge anybody for what they eat. I’m only sharing my life and my story. And if it encourages you to try something new, so be it.

Where are some of your favorite local places to stock up your kitchen?

Let me tell you where I love to go: It’s the good ol' 99 Cents store. You can find me in there anytime, OK? I go in there and get my avocados, pineapples and asparagus. I go there first before I go to the grocery store. But, honey, I’ll go anywhere, from Trader Joe’s to Vons to Vallarta. I also shop at the Galleria Market, which is a Korean market in Northridge, and I shop at Island Pacific, another Asian market. That’s where I get all different kinds of mushrooms, noodles and spices.

It must be difficult going to all those stores now that there are so many pandemic-related restrictions.

It’s a little frustrating, but it’s the way of life right now. You’ve got to just adjust and not overthink it. But what I really miss is the restaurants. I love Au Lac, which is Vietnamese food in downtown Los Angeles, Pura Vita, which is 100% plant-based Italian, and Vinh Loi, another Vietnamese place. I cook so much at home, but when I do go out, those are my little spots. There’s a new place — VTree in Hollywood — that just did their grand opening with take-out vegan soul food. It’s traditional Southern food with an African spin on it. Oh, my God! It’s so good!

TikTok star Tabitha Brown has plans including a comedy in development.  (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

You recently signed to Creative Artists Agency. What kinds of projects are you working on next?

I have a comedy in development where I play myself, a real mom and real wife who’s trying to keep her family together, all while keeping her mind sane and not forgetting to live her dream. I would also love to do a vegan travel series where I travel to small towns to showcase the hidden gems of vegan restaurants, talk to the owners and share their stories.

When I first started acting, I was trying to look a certain way and weigh a certain weight. I wasn’t free, which is probably why I never got to be great. When your mind is free and you’re not worried about what anybody thinks about you, you’re a whole different artist. So I’m super excited about my acting career right now.