Vashon’s only vegan café faces a tough go

A line three-people deep felt like a crowd last week at Vashon’s tiny Pure café, where owner Stephanie Morris took lunch orders and prepared the food with the help of a volunteer assistant.

Stephanie Morris handles the lunch rush at Pure with help from Stephen Knoder.

A line three-people deep felt like a crowd last week at Vashon’s tiny Pure café, where owner Stephanie Morris took lunch orders and prepared the food with the help of a volunteer assistant.

Murray opened Pure, a vegan, gluten-free café and juice bar, two years ago intent on offering the healthiest fare possible — and the blackboard menu boasts some of her bestsellers: the Nature Bowl with quinoa or brown rice, vegetables, seeds and sprouts, vegetable juices and salads from local farms. Raw pizza, another favorite, recently received glowing reviews in the Seattle Weekly.

Morris notes she has many loyal customers, ranging from people who are coping with serious health problems to people who simply want to eat well. But Pure has yet to be profitable, and in recent months Morris and her supporters have turned to the listserve VashonAll, Facebook and other avenues to garner support for the café.

“It’s sort of like putting together a puzzle,” Morris said. “I’d like to be able to make it work.”

Earlier this summer, she said, Valerie Howe of Chase Bank suggested she apply for a small business grant Chase was sponsoring in partnership with the online company Livingsocial. She applied, she said, but doing so required supporters to vote for Pure online. So she took to Facebook in earnest, she said, “friending” everyone she could and inviting people to participate via VashonAll. Customers followed suit. Morris, a musician, also offered some of her guitars and other items for sale, with proceeds going to support Pure.

With only 12 grants given out nationwide, Morris believes Pure’s odds of receiving one are long, but the voting efforts helped raise awareness about the restaurant on Vashon, and this summer has been the café’s busiest season so far.

In recent months, she has also strengthened her connections with some of those in Vashon’s health care community.

When acupuncturist Jessica Bolding of Vashon PRAHM hosted a free film on food and nutrition recently at the Vashon Theatre, Pure supplied wheatgrass shots. Followers of Kathy Abascal’s popular anti-inflammatory diet can find what they need at Pure, Morris noted, and naturopathic physician Nicole Maxwell, who practices next door, also frequently sends customers to her.

Even in the best of economic times, restaurants are known for being challenging businesses, with slim profit margins. In addition to the typical obstacles, Morris said, she’s faced a few more because of the nature of her café. Her organic ingredients are costlier, she said. The restaurant, which uses no flour, sugar, eggs or dairy, instead relies on fresh produce, often purchased from local farms, and a variety of other ingredients, such as nuts, which come with a hefty price tag. In fact, Morris said, she has only three shelves for dried food; the rest of her storage is refrigerated and holds perishable food.

“We are a living restaurant,” she said.

The type of food she serves also sometimes presents a challenge, she added. People sometimes walk in looking for burgers and fish and chips, not vegan offerings.

“We’re going against the mainstream food culture,” Morris said.

Vashon’s small population has also affected the bottom line. She has found that while Vashon has a high number of health-minded people, many of them do not eat out. And although Bank Road is a major street downtown, she is not on the main highway, and people still frequently stop in and say they had no idea the café existed.

This summer, Morris said, is an important one for the café, and she is hopeful that with continued customer support and some of her new ideas, including adding menu items, catering and offering her kitchen to independent food entrepreneurs, the café will find solid financial footing.

Customer Claire Schloss-er, one of the women waiting in line for lunch last week, hopes for the same.

“I love it here,” she said. “After I get done eating, I feel really healthy, really good and like I am saving the planet.”