To Your Health
By Sara Hodon
Folks looking for health-conscious fare will find no shortage of options throughout the Lehigh Valley. The region boasts an impressive mix of vegetarian cafés, organic and natural food markets, and even a vegan bakery whose client roster includes several A-list celebrities.
According to Greg Bowman, communications manager at The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, people are simply making more mindful food decisions and taking steps to improve their overall health. Essentially, he says, “As more people realize everything good that comes with organic food, they look for those good things whenever they have food decisions to make.”
Essence of Health is a full-service diversified health store whose philosophy is to guide and educate people on how to improve and maintain their health. According to owner Larry Bittner, the store carries over 8,000 products, from supplements and fitness products to a selection of gluten-free and lactose-free foods, as well as a large selection of children’s items. Bittner says that the store has seen an increase in traffic with the economic downturn. “People are taking greater interest in their health and trying to avoid going to doctors,” he said, “and they want to regain their health naturally versus taking medications.” Bittner says that their organic vitamins and gluten-free products are among their most popular items.
Eating healthy and making smarter choices about food is obviously not new, but there does seem to be a change in how we think about what we eat.
Italian eatery Feasta Pizza started 2010 on a health-conscious note: as of mid-January, owner John Caricari and his employees started selling pizza kits made with gluten-free flour in their Hellertown and Bethlehem Township locations. Their third flagship pizzeria is on Schoenersville Road in Allentown.
Caricari said they started selling the do-it-yourself pizza kits in response to customer demand. “A lot of customers were asking us about gluten-free because there are a lot of kids out there with celiac disease,” he explained. (Celiac disease is a condition in which the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and foods containing wheat, barley, or rye.) “We’re trying [the kits] out,” he said, noting that there are strict preparations for gluten-free dishes. “We would have to use different utensils and ingredients, and make that dough in a different oven from the regular pizza,” he said. “There are a lot of precautions that we would need to take, so we want to do it right.” Caricari said that if the kits sell well, he would add the gluten-free dough to the menu at all three Feasta Pizza locations.
Located inside the Grand Eastonian Condominiums in Easton, the Green Harvest Food Emporium looks just like any other cozy corner coffee shop, except for one very important difference—the café serves an all-organic menu with a special emphasis on using fresh, locally-grown ingredients.
Owner Doreen Repsher is an advocate for local growers, and has been active with the Easton Farmer’s Market for a number of years. She opened Green Harvest in July 2007 as a way to provide healthier eating options using locally-grown products. Her belief in the “green” philosophy extends beyond the menu—she and her staff serve food in containers made from sugar cane and utensils made from potato starch that biodegrade in a matter of months. Some of the items Repsher uses for the café’s decor have also been repurposed.
As far as the menu, Repsher says that there is “something for everyone” at Green Harvest. Their soups and chili are popular, with the Harvest sandwich their biggest selling item. The sandwich, made with black pepper bacon, roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, Swiss cheese, sprouts, and mayonnaise on seven-grain bread, includes items from every food group. The café also sells an assortment of homemade smoothies, juices, coffees, and teas.
Green Harvest is available for catering large or small events, either off-site or inside the Grand Eastonian. The café serves breakfast seven days a week and holds a number of different events throughout the year.
One of the hardest parts of getting healthy is keeping track of ever-changing nutritional information. The team at Informed Foods and Smoothies, a yogurt and fruit smoothie bar in Fogelsville, try to make it easier. They research their ingredients extensively and constantly develop new, good-for-you recipes. As manager Sean Ward explains, “We have a passion for wellness, and the recurring theme that we hear from our customers is that it’s difficult and confusing to get healthy. We try to do the homework for people.”
Informed Foods offers a yogurt bar with an assortment of “fixin’s” that includes berries, granola, dark chocolate, and healthy cereals; fruit smoothies and a number of “Premium Smoothies,” of which Ward says the Honest Energy, made with acai (an antioxidant-rich berry), apple juice, mango, strawberries, and pineapple, is the biggest seller. Their premium “What Ails Ya” smoothie is also extremely popular. “Basically, that has everything healthy in the store in it,” Ward said. Made with coconut water, pomegranate/cranberry juice, wheatgrass, blueberries, cranberries, and Sambazon Acai, Ward promises this drink will give anyone an extra boost of energy in the morning.
Informed Foods is also an East Coast distributor of Vita Coco, an all-natural coconut water energy drink that contains no sugar, and Sambazon Acai, a manufacturer of various acai berry products. Ward says that they purchase as much as they can from local growers and are hoping to expand their food items.
Nature’s Way Market is a one-of-a-kind natural market focused on healthy living. Located in the heart of Easton’s bustling main street, Nature’s Way stocks a range of organic, natural, and nutritional products for overall holistic wellness.
The market carries an assortment of nutritional supplements and health and beauty products, as well as a variety of organic, vegetarian/vegan, low-carb, gluten-free, and all natural items. When visiting Nature’s Way, expect to see familiar earth-friendly company names like Stonyfield Farms, Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Celestial Seasonings, Kiss My Face, Peter Rabbit Organics, and Woodstock Farms, to name just a few.
True to its nature as a full-service grocery store, the market also carries “green” household cleansers and paper products made from recycled materials, organically grown flowers, pet products, and a number of health-related books and magazines. The knowledgeable staff can help in locating a particular item or simply offer advice.
Danielle Konya has managed to marry the unlikely elements of chocolate gooey decadence and animal rights. Vegan Treats, her Bethlehem-based bakery, specializes in vegan desserts with no animal by-products; so don’t expect to find butter, milk, or eggs in any of her recipes. Konya, who became a vegan as a teenager, successfully combined her passion for activism with her art background, love of baking, and mean sweet tooth to develop alternatives to dairy-heavy desserts. She opened for business in 1998, and her baked goods quickly filled a niche in the Valley. The bakery’s name was inspired by her friends and family’s constant question “Did you bring any vegan treats?” at get-togethers.
Konya and her staff of 18 now bake for a number of upscale restaurants throughout the Northeast and tout such celebrities as Gwyneth Paltrow and Fallout Boy as clients. She is constantly working on new recipes and said it’s hard to pick just one favorite item, but that their pecan pie and coconut buns would be on the top of her list. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb cake is a clear favorite with customers. “People just love it,” she says.
Vegan Treats has received numerous awards and accolades, but preserving the health and well-being of all animals continues to be the main driver for Konya. “Food choices have a huge, global impact,” she said. “Eating vegetarian a few days a week can save the lives of thousands of animals around the world.”
Certified nutritionist Dianne Burg and her husband’s dedication to healthy eating and holistic wellness was the inspiration for their business, Healthy Alternatives in Trexlertown.
As Burg explains, Healthy Alternatives is “a grocery store plus”—it’s more of a marketplace with a full-service grocery store and a café with a reputation for great organic produce. “People come from far and wide for the produce,” Burg said. The market also sells a variety of supplements, organic meat and dairy products, health and beauty items, and even a few things for the family pet. Healthy Alternatives’ café serves a full menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees, all made in-house by chef Sarah Burg, who also runs a catering business that specializes in organic and vegetarian dishes. According to Burg, the miso soup is among one of the most popular menu items, with the salads and sandwiches close runners-up.
“This is our lifestyle, so we like to share that with others,” Burg says, referring to herself and her husband and business partner of 16 years. “We want to make the products that are important to us available to our customers. Our philosophy is ‘eat well, be well.’” Burg stresses that customer service is an important piece of the Healthy Alternatives experience, and their knowledgeable staff is always ready to help answer questions. Burg is available for nutrition consultations and says there has been an increase in sales and overall traffic over the past year. “People are staying home and cooking more. They’re trying new things [with organic eating] and finding out how easy it is.”
A perfect venue for those who love to eat healthy and enjoy good music is The Wildflower Café and Gallery in South Bethlehem. The café’s laid-back, slightly Bohemian atmosphere and all-vegetarian menu is a welcome alternative to the dark, smoky environments found in most music clubs.
Owner Michelle Krier opened the Wildflower almost six years ago. “We started out as primarily a music venue that served a limited amount of food,” she says. “I try to get as much as I can from local farmers during the season, and I strive to get everything organic if possible.” The menu now includes wraps, sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts, all made fresh every day.
The Wildflower is conveniently located near the campuses of both Lehigh University and Moravian College, and is a popular gathering place for students from both schools. Krier says that they have a diverse customer base. “We get a wide range of folks. People can just come in here and relax, meet some interesting people, and forget about their worries for however long they’re here. To see lots of people talking and getting to know each other—it’s a beautiful thing.” Krier added that the community has been receptive to the café, saying “This isn’t an easy business, and without the support of the community, we wouldn’t be here.”