Monday, Oct 15, 2018
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Mary Bilyeu

COMMENTARY

First vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Toledo celebrates 1 year anniversary

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    Owner Robert Harris holds two of his vegetarian dishes at Greenleaf Cafe in Toledo.

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On Sunday, Robert Harris’ Greenleaf Café at 4933 Dorr St. will celebrate its first anniversary.

It’s hard enough for any small, locally owned business to survive for a full year. One Ohio State study from 2003 found that 60 percent of restaurants fail or change ownership within the first 12 months.

Consider those factors coupled with Toledo’s reputation as a town with a hearty Midwestern appetite, known for foods like chili dogs.

It’s all the more remarkable, then, that the area’s first — and still only — exclusively vegetarian and vegan establishment turns one year old in a few days.

Mr. Harris opened the Greenleaf Café because he was tired of traveling to Detroit or Ann Arbor to find vegetarian and vegan food. Many places in our area (particularly Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants) did offer some options. But at most places, there was always the chore of scouring the menu or asking for substitutions or deletions of ingredients. It was a lot of work just to go out to eat.

“I was praying and praying someone would open a vegetarian place,” he had said when I interviewed him last April for a story introducing the restaurant.

When no one else did so, he did it himself.

There have been challenges, especially for someone who’d never owned a restaurant before. But Mr. Harris has addressed every one, establishing not only a dining haven for vegans but also a community-oriented space for everyone, regardless of dietary preferences.

“The most important thing, as far as my restaurant is concerned, is health,” said Mr. Harris. But “you don’t have to sacrifice taste just because you’re eating healthy.”

In fact, “more than 90 percent of our loyal customers eat meat,” Mr. Harris said, but still find the Greenleaf Café to be a draw. 

“We admire Robert’s willingness to step up, take feedback, and develop not only a nice restaurant but a wonderful meeting place for our community as well as a welcoming stop for travelers passing through,” said Mike Zickar who, with his wife Rachel, runs the informational website VeganToledo.com. “There’s a lot to celebrate with Greenleaf earning this milestone.”

Grumpy’s has been offering more vegan fare, from burgers to BLTs and baked goods. The Adams Street Café and Yer Mom’s House of Eats feature daily vegan specials. Bleak House Coffee and Holey Toledough are making vegan doughnuts. Tracy Plumb-Ruiz’s Chef Tracy 419 offers vegan scones at many area coffee shops. Black Kite Coffee and Pies serves a weekend brunch with at least one vegan item. And Rasa Restaurant and Bar and the Balance Pan-Asian Grille, among others, serve vegan-friendly menus.

Even Tony Packo’s — yes, the reason that Toledo is noted for chili dogs — sells a vegan version at its Secor Road location.

The Greenleaf Café has been a big part of a revolution here.

Mr. Harris is celebrating the anniversary from 12 to 7 p.m. Sunday with a $15 all-you-can-eat buffet as well as entertainment from singers Tracy Haynes, Abbigale Rose, and Dianne Moore; comedian Keith Cooke; illusionists Phillip and Henry, and poet FiYah. (For information about performance times, call 419-720-4445.)

“I want to show our customers how much we appreciate them,” Mr. Harris said. “I love people, and I love to see people happy.”

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 419-724-6155 or mbilyeu@theblade.com, and follow her at facebook.com/thebladefoodpage.

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