Albeit spiritual, Café Gratitude specializes in vegan Tex-Mex food that hits the wallet hard.
When I think of gratitude, I think of a large family at the dinner table in prayer on Thanksgiving, sneaking glances at the feast in front of them. Café Gratitude, in the back corner of Whole Foods by seafood and produce, is a whole different picture. The tables there are so small that three is a crowd. Yet, small as it may be, Cafe Gratitude offers a wide variety of food— but not without a price.
Started six years ago by Matthew and Terces Engelhart in San Francisco, Café
Gratitude was a test of Sacred Commerce, a business that endeavors to foster spiritual development. So far it’s been very successful, with cafés scattered around the Bay Area and recently Los Angeles.
I took the menu, which was a white piece of recycled paper printed with soy-based ink. The menu ranged from “I am effervescent” lemonade to “I am great” breakfast granola to “I am grateful” grain bowl. “I am grateful” is a community supported dish that is paid by donation and provides organic vegan food for those in financial need. That’s something for people to be grateful for.
I don’t think those with nut allergies would be happy with the café, though, as the menu is full of nuts. Café Gratitude even went as far as to “recommend that people with severe allergies not dine with us.” Ouch. However, the restaurant welcomes the lactose and gluten intolerant. Café Gratitude is “100% vegan,” fitted in with a specific gluten-free section with fresh veggies from local organic farms. They care about our health.
Before I could dash off to the cozy seating area, the waitress asked me, “May I ask you the question of the day?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What do you have faith in?”
I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I was supposed to answer this out loud or not. Don’t worry. They don’t really care if you answer; they just want you to think—and implicitly, to believe in the spirit of life. It’s part of a process that the Engelharts call “clearing.” It gets you in sync with life, gets you to be thankful. People at Café Gratitude don’t really care for the “ungrateful.”
Café Gratitude isn’t for you if you loathe sparsely populated restaurants in grocery stores. But the whole time I ate my meal, I forgot I was in Whole Foods. The café stands on its own. Its kiwi green overhanging, its blue and orange lamps, its personalized water spigot that looks like a soda fountain: they all invite the diners to imagine that they’re not in a crowded supermarket surrounded by produce and seafood at all. Sweet escape.
The “I am transformed” ($11) probably helped me escape reality, except for some minor hitches. It was two hand-sized corn tacos with too much guacamole, cashew sauce (vegan nacho cheese), rice, and beans to fit in the small taco. Although the guacamole was succulent with its tangy, almost spicy, taste, the taco itself was soggy and squishy.
“I am thriving” ($8) was a huge bowl of squash and dill soup. It is pleasantly bland yellowish green soup with red and dark green specks. I took the pepper shaker to try and change that—the soup wasn’t too bad afterwards. It mostly tasted like squash with its sautéed summer squash light and springy taste. It was decent, but not superb.
After eating, my eyes wandered to a board game on an adjacent table. It turns out that the Engelharts made a board game called the “Abounding River” that preaches self-confidence and gratitude by supplying players with an endless list of endearing platitudes (“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” – Anais Nin) to help them realize who they are. Along with the “Abounding River Personal Logbook,” both are supposed to spur feelings of gratitude and “abundance,” living in the present and in sync with life. Just like the menu, they seemed to emanate the café’s motto: be grateful.
And I truly am grateful—for a great atmosphere, a decent meal, and the simple lesson of gratitude.
My only regret is the price tag.
Wheelchair accessible: Sort of—the café doesn’t have much room to move about
Price range: $6-13
Meals: Good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner