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Cafe Gratitude: Serving affirmations in every bite


cafe_gratitude_los_angeles-organic-vegan-restaurant
(Photo: Cafe Gratitude Venice)

You may have tried vegan lasagna before, but did it proclaim that you are FABULOUS with every basil-spiked bite?

It did if it came from Café Gratitude, a California-based group of organic, vegan restaurants, where each menu item is tagged with its own affirmation, and your server provides the “You are” to the FABULOUS Lasagna or GENEROUS Squash Blossom Quesadilla upon presenting your plate.

“We got some grief at first for the affirmations, “ says Terces Engelhart, who founded the first Café Gratitude in San Francisco in 2004 with her husband Matthew and two of their sons. “But people loved us, we got so busy people couldn’t get a table, so we expanded quickly.”

cafegratitude I Am Terrific (Pad Thai)
Much of the produce comes from the family’s 21-acre BE LOVE FARM in Northern California. (Photo: Cafe Gratitude I Am Terrific Pad Thai)

Now, they serve up INSPIRED Spring Risottos as well as juice and meal cleanses to nearly 4,000 people a day, across its two Los Angeles locations in Venice and Larchmont, plus three other Cafe Gratitudes in Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and a franchise in Kansas City. The family-run enterprise has also led to several cookbooks and an enlightening how-to guide called “Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path to Awakening.”

Even though their path hasn’t been perfect (they closed eight in the Bay Area due to wage-related lawsuits, a subject they say they’ll address in a forthcoming book), they’re committed to self improvement, and kind actions that support communities.

This time of year, for example, the Engelharts and a stream of volunteers help serve a free Thanksgiving dinner (11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) at the Venice Cafe Gratitude location to “spread gratitude” that includes Butternut Squash & Sage Lentil Loaf, Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy, Raw Stuffing, and more.

Cultivating gratitude

This is all part of the Engelharts’ quest to improve the world, one delicious meal at a time. In fact, the affirmations came before the food. The couple had designed a board game to encourage generosity, abundance, and kindness and then wanted to create a safe, happy place for people to drink coffee, nibble and play the game.

Though both were lifelong spiritual seekers, neither had a formal food background; a trial raw food run and Terces’s “knack with food” inspired the tasty TRUSTING tempeh scrambles and DAZZLING Caesar salads served up on plates inscribed “what are you grateful for.”

But though the bliss may be contagious, it is not mandatory. A restaurant server will ask you if you want to hear the “Question of the day”, also posted on the blackboard, which can range from “What do you love about your mother?” (on Mother’s Day) to “What are you excited about today?” Says Engelhart, “we’re creating a judgment-free zone and you are accepted just the way you are. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the philosophy of the organization, we are happy to serve and be loving to whoever walks in our door.”

Engelhart says Café Gratitude has transformed an endless number of people, from cancer patients needing to alter their diets to those struggling with interpersonal relationships. With a franchise already operating in Kansas City, they now have their eye on New York.

Call it the power of positive eating, working on all levels. As Engelhart remarks, “I want people to leave thinking, ‘I don’t know what that was, but I want more of it.’” —Amanda Benchley

For more information on Café Gratitude, visit www.cafegratitude.com