North Weekly section
Goal of this Restaurateur is Serving Healthy Portions
by Lisa Capone
B EVERLY – There are logical reasons why Robert Reid chose this city as the location for the Organic Garden Cafe and Juice Bar, an organic, vegetarian, and raw food restaurant that celebrated its second anniversary on the winter solstice in December. Rent was too high in Cambridge – the region’s mecca of eclectic dining and Reid’s first choice. While searching for a spot near Boston, Reid’s realtor told him about an available site on Cabot Street in Beverly, tucked into a bank of storefronts that includes an Irish restaurant, a cobbler, the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre and a parking lot for nearby Montserrat College of Art. With reasonable rent, a local vegetarian society, a large natural food co-op on Cape Ann, and natural food markets in Saugus and Newburyport, the North Shore made sense as a market for Reid’s innovative cuisine. But, never mind all of that, said Reid, who lives in Arlington with his wife, Annette, and two children, Rebecca, 12, and Brett, 14. In the two years since the Organic Garden Cafe opened its doors, Reid has come to believe this location was destiny.
”The reason I ended up in Beverly is this is exactly where I was meant to be,” Reid said. He pointed to the unexpected benefits of the cafe’s proximity to Montserrat: The art school’s students constitute half of Organic Garden’s 14-member staff. The students add their own flare to Reid’s recipes for salads, wraps, and entrees, designing plates that emerge from the kitchen as ”a little work of art,” said Reid, who is chef as well as owner. Their creativity adds to the restaurant’s gourmet ambiance and helps the menu evolve, he said.
The idea of a restaurant where people sidle up to the bar for a shot of wheat grass – a chlorophyll-rich drink that Reid likened to a rejuvenating ”blood transfusion” – and nearly all the food is served raw was novel here, but the community is ”warming up to it.” Reid said every day brings two or three tables of new patrons – local people who were ”just driving by and thought they’d check it out.” A quarter of Organic Garden Cafe’s customers come from the Boston area, others travel from as far as New Hampshire and Worcester, and many hail from neighboring communities such as Gloucester and Salem. ”But the Beverly number is the one I’m most excited about. It’s growing,” said Reid, whose 36-seat eatery serves about 100 people on a typical day. ”It says to me we’re just offering a healthy choice. It’s not pretentious, it’s not in your face.”
While there are various shades of vegetarians, the term generally applies to people who eat dairy products, but not meat, poultry, or fish, said Ann Segal of the North Shore Vegetarian Society. Vegans give up dairy as well, consuming no animal products, she said.
Until recently, Reid didn’t expect to be an organic, vegan, raw food restaurateur in Beverly or anywhere else. Eight years ago, the 37-year-old Brockton native and former high school football player was a strictly ”meat and potatoes” tax accountant who played guitar and wrote songs on the side and nursed a dream of becoming a rock star. He still dreams of rock ‘n’ roll, but now the dream involves aspirations of catering backstage parties for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Tyler’s name is among several celebrity raw food enthusiasts whose names Reid rattles off as he extols the life force of vibrant, organic fare. Reid may have created another devotee in November when actor Bill Murray wandered into the Organic Garden with his son. Murray, Reid said, ordered a variety of dishes and left with two souvenirs of his trip to Beverly: a raw foods recipe book and a spiralizer – a device for making angel hair pasta from raw vegetables.
Sitting at a table in the cozy, Asian-inspired cafe on a recent morning, Reid took out two photographs. One is an old picture of him, bulked up and posing in a muscle shirt. The other explains the transformation to his new, lean silhouette. Clutching an image of his late sister-in-law, Elizabeth Reid, who died from cancer when she was 33, Reid explained how her illness and death launched him on a physical and intellectual journey in pursuit of better health.
”When I lost my sister-in-law, I took on a new purpose in my life. It just lit a fire,” he said. ”I put down the guitar and found a new passion.”
Reid set out to visit healing centers and seminars and meet with health food gurus on the West Coast. He spent 14 days in Aruba, fasting on nothing but coconut milk. Finally back home, he published a nutrition newsletter and taught recipe classes and seminars on the healing power of natural foods before founding Organic Garden in 1999.
Reid said his new regime helped him shed about 50 pounds, as well as his eyeglasses. He regained perfect vision eschewing cooked meat and dairy products and adopting a raw vegan diet, he asserted. He also no longer suffers from allergies and can usually beat a cold in one day.
Watching Reid wielding a huge blade behind the Organic Garden’s juice bar, it’s hard to picture him tallying deductions behind a desk. With three quick chops, he has the top off of a coconut and inserts a straw and a pink parasol decoration before serving the drink. It’s a ”young coconut” – filled with clear, sweet liquid – unlike the ”old” dried up nuts at the supermarket. For this treat, he said, you have to shop in Chinatown – or pull up a stool at his juice bar.
While there, patrons might sample one of several fruit smoothies – a favorite with theatergoers, according to Ellen Sheehan, a box office employee at the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre where ”we have some customers who eat there every single time they come” to a show. Meals, ranging in price from about $6 for salads and wraps to $8 to $10 for entrees, include choices such as seed and vegetable burgers, and vegan pizza and lasagna, which aren’t cooked (high heat, 116 degrees or higher, destroys food enzymes), but prepared in dehydrators at temperatures of up to 110 degrees for several hours.
Boston Vegetarian Society president Evelyn Kimber said interest in vegetarian dining is up. Attendance at the society’s New Year’s Day dinner doubled this year, she said, and nearly 10,000 attended the annual Vegetarian Food Festival in October.
Demand for organic food is booming, too. Retail sales of US organic food products grew an average of 20 to 25 percent each year during the 1990s and were projected to top $9 billion in 2001, said Barbara Haumann, senior writer for the Organic Trade Association. The association saw sales of organic soy and other meat and dairy alternatives jump 215 percent between 1999 and 2000, she said.
Kimber said other Boston area restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan cuisine, but Reid’s is the only one that features food that is raw, as well as organic and vegan.
Members of the North Shore Vegetarian Society, a group of 25 to 30 members founded about a decade ago, planned to meet at the Organic Garden last Thursday. Segal, a steering committee member, said the raw cuisine is ”different,” but ”things are so well prepared that you’d think you were eating something that was cooked.”
While other restaurants offer some vegetarian entrees, ”there aren’t any restaurants locally except Organic Garden where you can go in and know you can order everything,” she said.