When rocker Chrissie Hynde opened Vegiterranean on Akron’s trendy North Side, she said she just wanted someplace in her hometown where she could get a bowl of rice and beans. Two years ago, shortly before Hynde closed her up-scale restaurant, another Akron native, Julie Costell, opened Ms. Julie’s Kitchen in a run-down part of town.
Ms. Julie doesn’t offer meat substitutes or gourmet fare… just the food that she believes helped her survive diabetes and a heart attack.
Ryan Kropf and his girlfriend drove in a snowstorm all the way from South Euclid to Akron’s Firestone Park neighborhood for lunch at Ms. Julie’s Kitchen.
He’s not a vegan but he believes in the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Still, he’ll succumb to an occasional hot dog or hamburger.
“But I try to minimize it and do the best that I can. I fall to temptation sometimes, but that’s why this feels even better each time I do eat it.”
For today’s lunch he and his girlfriend ordered potato-leek soup, curried-kale soup, black bean burger and a falafel sandwich.
“It was excellent. We’re not taking much home, too.”
It’s a humble but homey establishment; just a few tables in front of a busy kitchen where Julie does most of the work. As we enter, she’s tenderly placing turnip leaves on what looks like a hamburger.
“They’re locally-grown turnips from Breezy Hill Farm. And greens that I make the burgers from, they’re from Greenfield Berry Farm. They’re Japanese, salad edamame beans like a soybean, but they’re green. Local radishes and fresh local ginger. I love my local farmers. They grow the best stuff!”
She started out selling her spelt-flour waffles, whole-grain breads and kale chips at farmer’s markets and still does. But as demand grew she needed a storefront and found a modest one on South Main Street. It became more than a kitchen, and more than a restaurant when she started offering groceries and prepared frozen foods to take home. She also gives classes there on vegan cooking and home gardening, hosts movie nights with the Akron Peace Project, and organizes group juice fasts through Facebook.
Through Facebook Ms. Julie has organized a group juice fast for 52 participants. Julie’s on the juice fast, too, and prefers exotic mixtures.
“Yesterday I had kiwi, cranberry, apple and celery. It was phenomenal!”
Ms. Julie is equally proud of a creamy yet fat-free potato salad achieved without eggs. Like everything she cooks it’s locally sourced.
“These are potatoes from Red Basket Farm in Kinsman, Ohio. These are his Yukon Gold potatoes that we use for the potato salad. The onions are from Baker’s Farm. They’re also here local. And we use a grape-seed-oil, vegan mayonnaise and mustard and pickle relish and it’s potato salad. It’s awesome. It’s really good.”
She also serves customers who for health reasons need her to cook everything for them, three meals a day.
“ Yeah, people come in all the time and get $100-$200 worth of food for the week. They can just put it in the refrigerator and pop it out for lunch, breakfast.”
A WHOLE NEW WAY OF COOKING
She sympathizes with customers who let her cook for them because she, too, once knew nothing about vegan cuisine.
“I had to relearn how to cook. My grandma salted ham.”
Ms. Julie had been a caterer.
“ Yeah that’s how I got to be 350 pounds. I made a lot of stuff with sugar and cream cheese and white flour. It was very bad, but people thought it was great, and that was what was so sad. And I finally had to quit after I changed my diet. I couldn’t keep perpetuating that. “
She’s feeling fine since her heart attack twelve years ago and she’s 150 pounds lighter.
Ms. Julie has authored three cookbooks to share the secrets of vegan cooking.
“Seasoning, texture, making beans taste like something you want to eat. Making greens into creative ways. Making salads in all different kinds of ways. I’ve probably eaten 5,000 salads. Don’t use white flour. Don’t sauté in oil. I think you should sauté in water. And use ground flax seeds instead of eggs. That’s important. I use one tablespoon of ground flax seeds for every egg. “
She doesn’t like meat substitutes, at all.
“I think it’s fake! I don’t use it. I think it’s creepy. It comes in a bag and it’s frozen and I don’t like it.”
She likes everything fresh, so she’s always in contact with local farmers.
“Either I go there or they come here. I see them at the farmers markets, and we’re texting back and forth. I’ve already put my orders in with everybody for what I want them to grow and a couple of people are opening extra fields just for us. So that’s exciting. We’re feeding a lot of people and we’re getting ready to feed a lot more. I just got the keys to my second location. So we are staying here on South Main Street and opening a second location on Exchange Street across from the stadium at Akron U.”
“Well, as soon as I can figure it out.”
NOT IN IT FOR BREAD ALONE
Her business plan is not to make millions.
“I’m not trying to be an upscale vegan restaurant. No, we’re trying to make people healthy, trying to help them figure it out, because there’s just too many of us that are not feeling well and there’s so much we can do for ourselves. No, I want this to be affordable. I want local produce to be affordable. Everybody needs to learn how to eat fruits and vegetables and make them taste good so they’ll eat them.”
She says 10 years ago, her restaurant might not have succeeded.
“People are listening. It’s not just the hippie culture. Now it’s real. Men with heart attacks are getting well from eating vegetables.”
Phil Amerline and his wife drove 53 miles in the snow from Holmes County in search of a healthy lunch.
“We’ll come maybe three times a week. “
He says he can’t find vegan food where he lives.
“But the other thing we can’t find: the community. There’s just such a feeling when we come in here. Support for each other. Because when you talk to people and you say you’re a vegan, they think that you’re kind of strange and how do you live without meat?”
He doesn’t miss it at all now that he’s discovered Ms. Julie’s Kitchen.
“I’m 62. Most of my friends are taking some kind of medication of some sort. And I don’t have to.”
Grateful customers often tell Ms. Julie how good they feel.
“Just recently I had a customer came in and told me he had done nothing but switch his breakfast to my waffles and he lost 20 pounds. I have lots of good stories like that. It’s very gratifying to be helping people feel better.”
A steady stream of vegans come in from the snow on this Saturday into Julie’s cosy kitchen. She estimates half of her clientele are regulars.
“They’re supporting me, they’re supporting the farmers, they’re supporting themselves, they’re supporting a healthy diet, they’re supporting putting a lower carbon footprint on the planet. It’s a long, rolling, rippling effect that we’re trying to have.”
Julie Costell, owner and chef of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen in Akron’s Firestone Park.