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What Are You Grateful For? | IndieFit Magazine – the Voice of the New Kansas City
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What Are You Grateful For?

Cafe Gratitude’s Annual Free Thanksgiving Community Meal


IndieFit recently caught up with Natalie George, the café’s “Creator/Director of Awesomeness” (yep, that’s her actual title) to discuss their free Thanksgiving community meal and to reflect back on the restaurant’s recent third anniversary. Known for their idiosyncratically named entrées (which all begin with “I AM…” – I AM MUCHO, a Mexican bowl of black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde, cashew ricotta cheese, etc.), the vegan stronghold is the only member of the upscale Café Gratitude chain outside California. (The other restaurants are in Santa Cruz, Berkeley and LA). With only six locations (eight if you count the uberhip Mexican spinoff Gracias Madre in San Francisco’s Mission District and West Hollywood), Café Gratitude nonetheless is a strong brand in the vegan world, having garnered praise from the New York Times and a cadre of veggie-leaning celebrities who love the culinary radicalism of the chain, which is loosely based on the very Left Coast-sounding philosophy of “Sacred Commerce” that attempts to integrate personal transformation, sustainability and business.

So why is Kansas City the first outpost of the brand outside Cali Nation? George, a Wichita native who previously worked at Garmin for ten years, said she originally wanted to bring the restaurant to KC because “for the longest time in my life, I’d wanted to live in California, but I stayed in the Midwest. Then something clicked in me. I realized I wanted to bring the things that are in California to Kansas City.” Believing that the Midwest, particularly Kansas City, is very community driven, George felt that “community is what the culture of Café Gratitude is all about. It’s more than just the food or vegan philosophy. There were people in Kansas City who craved the energy of clean eating — or at least the promise of it — that California represented to me and also the more open definition of community that is what Café Gratitude is all about. We were hungry for that in Kansas City.”

Café Gratitude’s annual free Thanksgiving community meal will once again take place at their Southwest Boulevard location, which is undergoing renovations to add an upstairs for private gatherings and community workshops. George wants to set one thing straight about the purpose of the event. “When we first started doing the meal two years ago, so many people would want to come volunteer, but they wouldn’t want to eat with us. I think the normal way people viewed this sort of thing was that it was about giving to the homeless.”

But George has a different vision for the event. “At our community dinner, anyone and everyone is invited to participate. And we do have homeless guests, but this is our way of giving back to all of the community, including our customers. We don’t target the homeless. We target the community. The main focus is celebrating together. It’s about sharing our gratitude because Thanksgiving is the day set aside for that.” Attendees all pitch in to help serve the meal. George carefully searches for words to describe how the event makes her feel about food, community and even the definition of family: “I love my family and — how should I say it — this is the only way I’ll ever do Thanksgivings going forward or at least some version of this. My favorite part is at the beginning when we all stand in a circle, and everyone goes around and shares what they’re grateful for. It’s really moving. It almost moves me to tears every year. Usually there’s a line out the door waiting to come in. We can get upwards of 70 people. So to go around and have that experience with so many people at once, it’s really powerful.”

When I asked if her definition blended the notions of family and community she said, “yes, that beyond resonates with me. That’s what I’ve created at the café. The staff is like my family, and I think they would say that about each other.”

On the Menu: A salad, main dish and desser t, all served family style
Café Gratitude Kansas City
333 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64108
816) 474-5683

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