Globally Inspired, Local Goodness
- By Lauren Arbogast
The first things to grab your attention in A Bowl of Good Café are the straight, clean lines of the décor and the bright, contrasting colors that seem to pop right off the wall. It's a small space for sure, but the availability of outdoor dining and the wide, custom glass sliding doors to the adjoining shop make the café feel open and airy. The handmade tables invite you to sit down and flip through the inserts describing different aspects of the café, from pictures of their local pork suppliers to the brewing process for a specialty tea. Not a detail is overlooked in this well-run café, and the attitude of the staff and loyalty of the customers certainly reflects the leadership behind this one-of-akind restaurant.
A Bowl of Good Café had its beginnings in the back of a local health food store, humbly serving a faithful group of customers. The owner, Katrina Didot, started the café in 2005 as a response to a needed change in her life—having recently returned from Guatemala with her growing family in 2003 and looking for something other than her vocation as a licensed social worker in family preservation work. The opportunity to serve the community through wholesome, quick foods intrigued her, and as she will readily tell you: "Food doesn't scare me!" Katrina grew up in a large family, and enjoyed working in the kitchen preparing meals for her siblings and parents. As word spread about the tiny café with the great food—namely the soups and bread—Katrina's thriving business built up a loyal following.
One of her regular patrons was Rachael Dorsey, a local realtor who was "…intrigued with the café— the atmosphere, the people…total strangers would have conversations with others while grabbing a quick meal." She was so fascinated with the café and its ambiance that she asked Katrina if she would consider partnering with her, to which she received a prominent "no" response. Rachael and Katrina laugh as they remember their beginnings. As the years moved on and circumstances changed, Katrina began to look for a larger space for the café to operate out of, and turned to Rachael for her realtor expertise. With her time in the health food store expiring, Katrina began to think of ways to continue with her business while concurrently searching for a new space to lease. She gathered the names and emails of her loyal fan base and turned to a transitional solution: selling soup and bread at the Saturday Harrisonburg Farmer's Market downtown.
Katrina began to craft a regular newsletter that she would email out to her customers to let them know when she was going to be at the Farmer's Market or other local venues to sell her goods. The "store" became the back of a van. Katrina's three home ovens would produce over a hundred loaves of bread in a day, and hundreds of quarts of soup were prepared in a commercial kitchen—rented for the day—in preparation for the work week. In the winter of 2008/2009, relief came in the form of newly constructed real estate on Mt. Clinton Pike in the Common Good Marketplace—home to the Mennonite Church's Gift and Thrift. Management offered Katrina and Rachael a prime spot in the shopping center adjoining Artisan's Hope. The grand leap to a store of their own brought doubt to mind. As Katrina says, "There was no margin of resources to take a risk." Rachael credits Katrina with the belief and drive to make the transition happen, saying "she really is a gutsy lady— determined to make it work."
With a new home and a customer base anxiously awaiting, plans for the new store began to take shape. Wood salvaged from a local barn, inlaid with tiles from around the globe, became sturdy works of table art. A color scheme that included vivid contrasting colors such as "new grass green" and "deep plum purple" provided just the right burst of brightness to accent the fresh colors in the food. The menu came to life with staple items of soup and bread, accented with various salads, breakfast offerings, and hearty "Meals in a Bowl." Most creations are globally inspired, with ethnic facets that complement and extend the complacent American palate. The offerings grab your attention, with names like "It's All Greek to Me" and "Red, White, and Moo Bowl." The customers have taken to the attention-grabbing names so much that when a new creation is concocted, "…we have contests within the staff for naming rights!" Katrina laughs.
Katrina and Rachael credit the staff at A Bowl of Good Café for their part in the continued growth. Their friendly faces and teachable spirits make for a staff that continues to morph and gel into a spirited team. Katrina says that "one of the biggest joys of operating the restaurant is that all of the staff care about it and work hard to create success." It's not hard to see why the staff enjoys working at A Bowl of Good—Katrina and Rachael lead by example with hard work, yet create a welcoming and educational environment to support their overall call. For example, the staff takes monthly field trips to local farms, families, or stores that supply A Bowl of Good with fresh provisions, and leave with a greater knowledge of local food production. Any food left over at the end of the workday is also offered to the staff, or passed on to Our Community Place downtown.
Giving back or supporting those who give to you was never an option for Katrina; it's just the way she approaches work and life. The mission statement of A Bowl of Good sums it up: "Our mission is a community minded business that exists to bring a healthy, hearty, convenient and internationally influenced eating experience to an increasingly busy population. We place a priority on using local, fresh, and all-natural ingredients."
Don't mistake the emphasis on local and all-natural ingredients as a buyin to the popular trend—for Katrina and Rachael, it is a way of life. "I don't think we're doing anything for trends. We believe in what we are doing; we have taken a good, wholesome movement and made it so that it's accessible and affordable enough to eat here everyday of the week," Katrina vows. Have they achieved all the "local-ness" they want? "No," Rachael laughs, "we want to get better; there are still areas to achieve on. For example, this summer we are creating a garden behind the store that will supply fresh herbs and salad offerings, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce." It is upon this local-minded foundation that A Bowl of Good stands.
For Katrina and Rachael, the journey to where they are today is a testament to hard work, preservation, and commitment to a cause they are both passionate about. As Rachael says, "We've worked really hard to get where we are. It's valuable in a way that money isn't." They understand and appreciate the route of food from farm to table, and hope to inspire you, the customer, to make local food choices and eat creations with fresh ingredients.
A Bowl of Good offers all of their creations to-go, as well as catering and meeting room options. They are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information, call 540-437- 9020 or visit: www.abowlofgood.com. Don't forget to search Facebook for A Bowl of Good and check their tweets @abowlofgood for their latest offerings and happenings.