Zest | Food | Nord-Express
Vegan for everyone in Traverse City
By Ross Boissoneau | September 11, 2021
Tarah Elhardan and Satya Pillay say they want their breakfast and lunch restaurant to have options that everyone will enjoy. Which is an interesting concept, considering that Zest Café is completely vegan. Nonetheless, “we want our restaurant to be something for everyone,” Elhardan says.
So their menu offers different kinds of toast: avocado, peanut butter and strawberries, blueberries and almonds, even a spicy hummus and tomato (with those avocados, of course). There are a number of smoothies, acai bowls, salads, and Indian dishes – along with the Bollywood Burrito, a tangy (sorry) combination of turmeric tofu scramble, homemade root vegetable hash, beans. black, spinach, cilantro, avocado, salsa, pickled onions and spices, served in a gluten-free tortilla.
And the response was more than expected. “Business has been very good,” says Pillay.
“It’s been busy,” Elhardan adds. She just doesn’t know how busy the restaurant is, as she admits that she has no basis for comparison. “I don’t know what to compare it to – I haven’t been in the industry.”
That’s right. Surprisingly, none of them come from the hotel or restaurant industry. Pillay is a physician who practices in Kalkaska, while Elhardan has a background in mental health. It is their double passion for health and good food that led them to open the restaurant. “We both love to cook,” says Pillay.
Both opened in the small space at 439 East Front Street which housed a number of restaurants, which later moved to more spacious neighborhoods: The Cooks’ House, Georgina’s, Patisserie Amie, and even the former Soho Café. . Immediately before Zest, the site housed Sparks BBQ. Pillay works with Dean Sparks’ wife and says Dean has been a big help in their transition to the restaurant industry.
Elhardan has been a vegetarian for over ten years, the last two of which have seen her completely switch to a plant-based diet. Pillay, meanwhile, is what has been dubbed a “flexatari” – someone who eats mostly, but not exclusively, plant-based foods. “It’s being aware of what you eat and how you feel,” Elhardan explains.
Her husband agrees. “On golf nights, I eat kite,” Pillay says, then laughs. “I still regret it.”
So they encourage people to eat things that taste and feel good. What they say is the case with their plant-based foods, which provide nutrition and energy, and also satisfy the taste buds.
“More [of the menu items] are things we have eaten for the past two years, ”Elhardan says. “I started making the Bollywood Burritos – they became Satya’s staple. The smoothies we have created over the years. We enjoyed the montage (a different take on avocado toast, with cashew cream cheese, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, tomato slices, hemp seeds, microgreens and pickled onions).
Indeed, while the menu may be limited, among the items they offer there are many options. Just take smoothies, for example: Cacao Power Crunch contains coconut milk, almond butter, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, dates, vegetable protein, chia seeds and bananas. . The Very Berry Bliss includes blueberries, strawberries, coconut milk, blue spirulina, dates, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Small & Mighty has an almond milk base, to which they add spinach, chia seeds, bananas, blueberries, dates and peanut butter.
They are one of seven different smoothie mixes, with various additions also available. Add a half-dozen toast, salads, fruity acai bowls, oatmeal, and a weekly Indian special (a nod to Pillay’s heritage), and you’re spoiled for choice. , whether you are thinking of breakfast or lunch.
Pillay was born and spent the first years of his life in South Africa, before his family moved to Traverse City when he was young. Elhardan has made Traverse City his home for most of his life, and the two are happy to be able to give their hometown something they lacked.
What’s to come? Both don’t rule out expansion – or really whatever else – as they learn more about the industry, what works, and what their customers want.
“We had locals asking us about the catering. We will make some changes to the menu when it gets cooler, ”explains Elhardan. This could include the samosas, which they had on the menu but became so popular that they couldn’t keep up with demand.
Zest is open Tuesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It doesn’t offer indoor seating, but picnic tables are available right outside, where they rent out city-owned land. In the winter, they say they will continue to depend on take-out, although they haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of sitting inside. Their zeal for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and for the protection of the planet is also manifested in their use of compostable materials.
Find Zest at 439 E Front St. in Traverse City. (231) 421-3141, www.zesttc.com