Chef Profile: Vasuvio’s Organic Cafe
For a downtown breakfast, lunch and weekend dinner.
by Emily Moroz
To be sure, Salt Lake’s Main Street is an active place: The “peep-peep” at crosswalks usher businesspersons and tourists alike to bank, cafe, bar and bookstore. But downtown still feels like a teenager—yet to come into its own, in part due to ongoing construction, and it sometimes lacks a certain intimacy. Duck into Vasuvio’s Organic Cafe, however, claim a front window nook, and get a sense of what Main Street could and should be. As you sip on a hot drink and hunker down for some serious people-watching, this casual eatery begins to feel like it’s always been here.
Owners Pete and Tiffany Huddleston had always dreamed of opening an all-organic café, offering fresh produce, free-range and non-GMO meat and dairy. Ogden native Pete used to be a heavy equipment operator and Tiffany, from Salt Lake, a restaurant server; both enjoy healthy, active lifestyles. At first they considered an organic food cart, in the same vein as the portables peppering Sugar House streets or the taco carts of State and 800 South. But the health code hurdles of operating a cart were surprisingly more difficult than leasing on Main. After some extreme remodeling of an old Standard Optical store, last October Vasuvio’s came to life.
Moments after three o’clock, the post-lunch crowd trickles in and the café is buzzing with activity. Tiffany greets everyone cheerfully, pressing tasty paninis, while Pete answers the phone, prepares a large catering order and begins a photo slideshow on the large flat-screen monitor mounted on the wall—customers can use the computer as well as free WiFi.
Call me crazy, but ’90s rocker Natalie Merchant crooning from the speakers definitely added to the ambience at Vasuvio’s. I ordered a customer favorite: half veggie panini sandwich. Stuffed with peppers, avocado, tomato, red onion—the list goes on—and house-made hummus, it was delicious, and I could’ve easily put away the other half. Instead I had a cup of the house veggie soup—heaven in a spicy tomato broth, completely vegan, and perfect for chilly almost-March air, topped off with a fresh-baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.
Pete and Tiffany choose to buy their food from companies committed to “best practices.” Ideally and where possible, these are local.
So what does it mean for a restaurant to be “green”? Immediately, Pete answers: “One hundred percent sustainable.” This means zero waste, biodegradable food containers (Denver’s Eco-Products), energy conservation, recycling and of course, composting. “We give our food waste to our friends’ compost piles,” says Pete. Is this more difficult or expensive? “Yes and no,” says Pete. “We pay a little more up front, but the long-term benefits of sustainable practice pay back tenfold.” Tiffany agrees: “It changes your perspective. Once you’ve committed to [earth-friendly choices], it’s hard to do it any other way.”
The Vasuvio’s crew stockpiled as much produce from the downtown Farmers Market as they could; their local onions and potatoes have lasted nearly all winter. Their all-organic breads come from American Fork bakery Flour Girls & Dough Boys. Salt Lake City’s ProBars and Nutty Guys nuts, Scentsy candles (Fruit Heights) and Nature’s Indulgence granola (Ogden) line their shelves; ionized and distilled H2O from Salt Lake’s own Water Wellness Center pour from a cooler up front. A lot of people ask Pete why he doesn’t use a local coffee roasting company for Vasuvio’s espresso and coffee beverages. Pete checked out local options. He chose Illy, he says, because the Italian company is “phenomenal in all areas.” Illy purchases their beans directly from farmers, which guarantees them a profit, education and ethical treatment of their employees.
With three growing toddlers and a new café, Pete and Tiffany are committed to dishing healthy food daily. Their prices aren’t through the roof. With nothing on their menu over $9, and many $3-6 options, eating organic is no longer the overpriced monster it used to be. Vasuvio’s aims to help eaters make the connection between healthy eating and a healthy planet. Long-term, they’re already talking about expanding out of Utah; when folks who are just passing through Salt Lake come in and say, “I wish I had this in my city!” Pete knows the need is definitely out there.
Vasuvio’s Organic Café, 155 S Main St. M-Th 8a-6p, Fri 8a-9p, Sat 9a-9p. 801-596-2052, http://www.vasuvioscafe.com