An attitude of gratitude
May/June 2008 California Country magazine
By Tracy Sellers
Café Gratitude serves raw food and a fresh viewpoint.
Café Gratitude serves raw food, fresh viewpoint
If the expression "you are what you eat" is true, then at Café Gratitude, the power of positive thinking rules. The quirky, offbeat chain of restaurants in the Bay Area is the perfect example of how eating your fruits and vegetables can change the way you feel and live.
A small but popular group of eateries, Café Gratitude is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Matthew and Terces Engelhart.
Terces, left, and Mathew Englehart offer raw food and "an environment of unconditional love" at Café Gratitude, a small, quirky chain of restaurants in the Bay Area.
"When Terces and I got together six years ago, we decided we would live our life from a place of inner guidance, no matter how crazy it seemed," Matthew Engelhart said.
One of their first pieces of guidance was to create a transformational board game called "The Abounding River." The purpose of the game was to help people transform from a place of scarcity to a place of abundance. After leading game-based workshops across the country, the couple decided to open a gaming parlor of sorts that also served food.
"We would entice people in with the food and give them transformation on the side, at no extra charge," he said with a smile.
Coincidentally, around the same time, Terces Engelhart picked up a book on raw food and suggested the couple try eating that way for a month.
"I had known about the raw food movement for a long time but always thought it was a diet for fanatics," her husband said.
By the end of that experiment, their next move became clear: to open the gaming parlor, but serve only raw food. And Café Gratitude was born.
But what exactly does eating raw mean? According to www.living-foods.com, one of the leading Web sites for this subject, raw and living foods contain enzymes. In general, the act of heating food over 116 degrees Fahrenheit destroys enzymes in the food. Furthermore, advocates of "going raw" believe all cooked food is devoid of enzymes and that cooking food changes its molecular structure.
While proponents say raw foods have enormously higher nutrient values than foods that have been cooked, some medical professionals stress caution and also suggest that moderation is often the best way to approach menu choices.
Wendy Cunningham, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and professor at California State University, Sacramento, says there is no medical proof that cooking food is bad for you and that eating all raw, all the time, is an "extreme" diet. But she does say, "If you eat more raw fruits and vegetables without adding calories, that's always a good thing."
Because raw foods have different effects on different people, Cunningham advises people to be sure to do their research before embarking on a diet or "cleanse" that restricts them to eating only raw foods.
"People should listen to their own body when trying out any new foods and consult with a qualified health professional if there are any questions," she said.
That's the advice Berkeley teacher Gina Rose heeded before heading to Café Gratitude. Following her open-heart surgery two years ago, her students suggested she start eating raw. She did some research, embarked on a new eating plan and soon was a changed person.
"If you had seen me two years ago, you wouldn't recognize me," Rose said. "I have never felt as good as I do today. I am a totally different person."
What Café Gratitude lacks in cooking appliances, it more than makes up in personality. With its bright colors and effervescent staff's greetings, you feel as if you are in the West Coast version of the famous TV bar, "Cheers," where everybody knows your name and they're glad to see you.
The café's menu also adds to the happy ambiance. All the food names begin with "I Am" followed by a positive attribute. For example, "I Am Happy" is a sprouted almond seed hummus and "I Am Thankful" is coconut curry soup with avocado, tomato, cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms. The "I Am Fabulous" dish is zucchini noodles layered with cashew ricotta cheese, fresh tomatoes, basil pesto and marinara.
From the appetizers to the entrées to the desserts, nothing at Café Gratitude is cooked. The food is as fresh as it gets, and the emphasis is on keeping the produce as close to it was in nature. Fresh, local and organic produce is the star of the menu, with farm after farm in California highlighted in some extremely creative dishes. They all get their start at the Café Gratitude Kitchen, a virtual 24-hour food factory where all of that fresh produce is prepared and then personally delivered to each of the four cafés in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.
"With raw food you've got to have top quality in your produce," said Judy Rogers, kitchen manager. "We know all of the farms we buy from and know we are getting the best products we can from some of the best farmers around."
Instead of ovens, microwaves and burners, the kitchen is full of juicers, blenders and dehydrators, all ensuring that every bit of the produce is used to its fullest capabilities.
"We always look for the best food on the planet, so obviously we source a lot from California. We go through seven cases of lemons a day, six cases of oranges, seven flats of strawberries a day and 19 cases of greens," Rogers said. "The big wholesaler of organic produce that we use, we're his No. 1 restaurant account."
Surprisingly, some of Café Gratitude's biggest produce requirements come from the smallest of items, namely sprouts--from sunflower sprouts to pea sprouts. Each week more than 125 pounds of sprouts are harvested and delivered from the New Natives farm in Watsonville to the kitchen's doorstep in San Francisco.
Fresh, local and organic produce is the star at Café Gratitude. Watsonville farmers Ken and Sandra Kimes, who originally catered to "hippie juice bars" in the 1980s, deliver more than 125 pounds of organic sprouts to the café's kitchen each week.
Husband and wife, Ken and Sandra Kimes, started New Natives farm in 1980 as a way to cater to the growing sector of small juice bars and cafés in their area.
"No one knew anything about sprouts or wheatgrass or anything about the type of produce we had," Sandra Kimes said. "They thought we were crazy for growing what we did."
Starting small, the Kimeses had little to no expectations about their soon-to-be burgeoning farming operation.
"To be honest, back when we first started this, most of our customers were juice bars that hippies hung out at, so I thought we maybe could find a nice niche market with them," Ken Kimes remembered.
But much to the couple's surprise, the business began to grow as more and more of those "hippie juice bars" began to go mainstream, and soon a new way of eating started to develop.
"Food awareness, especially in the Bay Area, has really come up a lot since our early days. Now you see sprouts on menus all the time and wheatgrass is totally mainstream, like at Jamba Juice," Ken Kimes said. "People are more aware of different styles of eating. From more ethnic cuisines to sushi to raw food, people are starting to realize there are alternatives."
That food awareness has trickled its way to the couple's farm and today they plant, harvest, clean and package sprouts seven days a week. The Kimeses now cater to a clientele that includes local residents, farmers markets and restaurants like Café Gratitude.
"When we first started delivering to Café Gratitude, I always thought this was the food of the future. It just makes you feel good to eat there, and my dream is to see a lot more Café Gratitudes all across the country," Sandra Kimes said.
To that end, the Engelharts are looking to expand and bring their unique style of eating to areas outside the Bay Area. New locations are planned for Sacramento and Los Angeles.
"We're not necessarily in the restaurant business. We're in it for the community it builds," Terces Engelhart said. "We create an environment of unconditional love for our employees and customers and strive to make a huge commitment to the quality of their lives."
And that truly is something to be grateful for.
Tracy Sellers is a reporter for the California Farm Bureau Federation and the popular weekly television program "California Country." She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or firstname.lastname@example.org.