Love Central

It’s so “Six Degrees” how a movie about a depressed, obese and addicted 54-year-old Frank Ferrante would lead me directly to a restaurant called Café Gratitude.

Turns out poor Frank was lucky, nurtured back to health by the employees at this San Francisco-based restaurant.

That movie introduced me to Café Gratitude, a restaurant celebrating our “aliveness.” About a year later, headlines in the Kansas City Star announced that this restaurant was about to open on Southwest Boulevard.

After much anticipation, I met Café Gratitude’s owner and Director of Awesomeness Natalie George for breakfast on a weekday morning.

As we chatted, she was still basking in the reality of her venture, expressing delight that the restaurant has been so well-received in Kansas City.

“I was on a business trip to San Francisco and happened to eat at Café Gratitude causing my “a-ha!” moment,” said Natalie. “This place was a viable way to help people get healthy. I knew I wanted to bring the concept of a totally organic, vegan restaurant to Kansas City.”

Natalie pursued her dream amassing a community of like-minded folks for a workshop/meet-and-greet to convince California owners Matt and Terces (Secret, backwards) Engelhart that conservative Kansas City would welcome the concept.

It worked.

Natalie and her husband Mike opened doors to Café Gratitude — located in the former Lu Lu’s Noodle Shop on Southwest Boulevard — on May 1, 2012.

“There’s been an overwhelming response that I find awe-inspiring,” says Natalie who is holding down another full-time job while balancing this operation.

Her goal is to teach people that 100-percent plant-based vegan food is not only delicious, it’s the path to wellness.

“Eventually, we’ll have cooking classes and workshops,” she said assuredly.

I finished off my hearty bowl of I am Great raw buckwheat, almond and apple granola posing the question, “Are there plans for another location?”

“Perhaps,” she mused watching the line start to form for lunch. 


Comfy urban digs

“So is this a real ‘woo, woo’ kind of place?” asked one of my trio of Tastebuds settling into a booth on a return visit.

“It doesn’t particularly look new-agey,” replied another.

I recounted how Natalie and her general manager, Paul Janasz, director of love and kindness, prep their team daily, fortified with a friendly dose of affirmations for the tasks ahead.

That mojo was in motion as Crystal (could you have a more perfect name?) showered us with her contented demeanor.

Adoration poured forth as our menus expounded on starters, salads, sandwiches, specialties, tonics and smoothies.

I am Thankful, Thriving, Gorgeous, Extraordinary, Magical … I could go on but suffice it to say, the menu extols loving life, adoring yourself and having fun while being nourished.

“I’ve always had fun nourishing,” commented one Bud perusing the menu then choosing I am Humble (no comment).

The ample bowl of Indian curried lentils over quinoa spinach and roasted potatoes was, according to her, “dee-lish” ($12).

I waffled between I am Extraordinary, a BLT composed of crispy chipotle-maple coconut “bacon” and I am Creative, the essence of pizza infused with live onion, sunflower pizza crust and cashew ricotta cheese.

Considering creativity is my strong suit, I selected the pizza ($10).

“I am Transformed,” announced one Bud settling on the corn tacos with brown rice, black beans, salsa, guacamole and cashew nacho cheese ($12).

“Good?” I asked after a few bites.

“A bit spicy, but still good,” she replied.

The café filled quickly with a broad demographic, not just aging hippies nor a young, loft crowd. We four suburban ladies-who-lunch fit right in.

Café Gratitude’s Master of Love and Kindness dropped by bestowing upon us a sample of I am Luscious almond milk, fig, date, raw cacao and vanilla bean smoothie ($8.50).

“Ooh, this is good for a dairy-free drink,” said a Bud.

Another Bud opted to try I am Immortal, an immune system-enhancing, consciousness- expanding, ancient tonifying elixir made from reishi, shilajit and ormus ($5).

Do not ask me what that means.

“It’s like chai,” she said with a gulp.

Instead, I tried I am Effervescent because a fellow radio critic said I should. All puckered up, the ginger ale, ginger juice, lemon and agave was tart but tantalizing ($4.25).

This place is easy. No pretension, just people having fun nourishing.

“So, are you transformed?” I asked the Buds who seemed delighted with the experience and with each other.

The consensus? If we can just become everlastingly youthful, dazzling, pure and cool, we will be eternally grateful.

It’s a work in progress.

Let me get back to you on that.

Café Gratitude
333 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, Mo. 64108
(816) 474-LOVE (5683)

Gloria Gale is an Overland Park-based food writer. “On the Menu” is not a restaurant review, it is a summary of dining out in Johnson County.

photos: Steve Puppe