"I had the I am Fabulous Lasagna. I remember saying I'm fabulous with each bite. That was the first time I can remember eating without fear. I didn't count the calories. I didn't worry about being fat. I didn't realize how all encompassing my focus on calories had become," George says. "I took that lasagna to go every day for a week. I ate it and I fell in love with it. It changed my life."
George, a committed salesperson, worked on the founders Terces and Matthew Engelhart for two years. They tested the waters by offering a few workshops locally - education is a large component of Cafe Gratitude's mission - and the enthusiastic response from Kansas Citians helped to convince the Engelharts that barbecue country was ready for raw food. After looking at the Kansas City Cafe space and the former Shiraz space (where Nica's 320 is now located), the Georges toured 333 Southwest Boulevard.
"I asked Google if 333 meant anything and the first result that came up was 'whatever question you're asking of the universe, that's its way of saying yes.' After that, I knew it was the right space," George says.
A year ago, Natalie and her husband Mike, decided that instead of building a house, they would devote their savings towards bringing a Cafe Gratitude franchise to Kansas City. And May 1, the restaurant opened in the former Lulu's space at 333 Southwest Boulevard. Fat City caught up with George to find out what's been happening since then.
What's surprised you in the first few months you've been open?
I'm surprised by the people coming in. It's normal Kansas Citians, for lack of a better word. We definitely get the alternative crowd, but I look out and see someone that looks like my mom eating at the restaurant and I see a lot of that happening. It's kind of exciting that we have a younger and older crowd. I think people are being called to the message of Cafe Gratitude. The food is different because it's vegan or vegetarian, but I think we're reaching people with our message of gratitude, love and abundance.
What are people ordering?
Our tacos are one of our top sellers. I think quite a few people get brought along by their friends. They're hardcore meat eaters who think they'll be going to Town Topic to get something with meat after they leave. I usually recommend the tacos to them. I've had several tell me that was one of the best tacos they've ever had. And they're so satisfied because the tacos are so filling and flavorful. It's our gateway dish.
I think people can relate to or BLT or Veggie Burger. We make our bacon out of coconut. It doesn't taste exactly like bacon, but it's got that consistency.
How is Cafe Gratitude different than some of the other vegan/vegetarian establishments like Eden Alley or Fud in Kansas City?
I believe we're all different and we all bring something different to the scene. My favorite dish at Fud is the jackfruit reuben. I get it gluten-free. We don't have jackfruit or tofu. Eden Alley serves dairy. The food from each restaurant is totally different. For us, we use nuts and quinoa for protein, beans and rice and lots of green vegetables.
What's still in the works?
We're in the process of applying for our beer and wine license. We'll have beer and wine and mimosas for brunch. We'll also have a few tables for outdoor seating. In the future, we'll be adding juice cleanses and juice packages. If somebody wanted to juice for a week, we have a hydraulic juice press. There's no heat involved, it just crushes the fruit until it produces juice. The nutrients and enzymes are supposed to then stay intact and preserved up to three days after its juiced. So we can package the juice, keep it refrigerated and people can just take it to go.
Pick up a copy of The Pitch next Wednesday to see Charles Ferruzza's review of Cafe Gratitude.