Farmers’ markets and food halls have become popular across the country, though an increasing amount of vendors are turning away from produce and leaning toward other food products. Grass-fed meat, baked goods, small-batch sauces, and artisanal chocolates are amongst many of these new-wave markets, placing less of an emphasis on the original intention of these food-focused gathering places. Lady and the Shallot, a one-year-old vegan cafê, is bringing back the produce at the historic Trenton Farmers’ Market in New Jersey. Co-owners and married couple Kate Wnek and Francesca Avitto sat down with VegNews to chat about the healing powers of produce, the gratifying experience of feeding others, and their incredible plant-based menu.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Going vegan
Since they first met, Wnek and Avitto have done almost everything together—including adopting a vegan diet. After being a vegetarian for 15 years, Avitto wound up falling off the wagon and reincorporating animal products—until two years ago, when the couple decided to stop eating meat together. They both felt the need to go vegan after harboring severe illness on both sides of their family. Breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, and heart disease—these were enough to make the duo realize that if they didn’t change their diets, they could fall victim to one or more of these ailments that had plagued so many of their loved ones.  

Beyond experiencing more energy, the couple explained that they felt “a clarity they never felt before”; they were both “awakened.” Their decision to change their diets for the pure sake of their health rapidly evolved into a greater purpose. No longer content with their current catering business serving “the same old, same old,” the two began to create special menus and meal plans for clients with dietary restrictions.

“Feeding people is an experience, but gaining a healthy perspective and improving one’s life physically was an even better and more satisfying one. Watching people eat your food and tell you that they ‘feel better’ is an amazing thing. We decided then that this is what we were supposed to be doing,” Avitto remarked.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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An emphasis on plants
Wnek and Avitto quickly devised a business plan and set up shop as the first vegan eatery in the Trenton Farmers’ Market in May 2018. Upon being the first plant-based establishment in this 70-year-old market’s history, each thought, “How could you not take advantage of all of these farms with all of this beautiful produce? We were honestly surprised we were the first to come up with the idea. Talk about farm to table!” To pay homage to their farming community, Lady and the Shallot menu draws inspiration from the market’s produce vendors, showcasing the best of the season and letting the plants speak for themselves.

“So many people take fruits and vegetables and drown out their flavors in some kind of sauce and/or just use them as side dishes. That’s it! [Plants] are truly the underestimated underdogs of the food world, and our belief is that they are meant to shine.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The mouthwatering menu
In addition to being plant-based, the menu is also gluten- and nut-free, a conscious decision due to the fact that their nine-year-old nephew suffers from a severe nut allergy. “We wanted to create a safe space for him to eat, and for others like him,” Wnek and Avitto explained.

Even with these dietary restrictions, Lady and the Shallot menu is full of tempting yet health-promoting options. Their most popular item, and one that they claim to be most proud of, is the Rainbow Tacos. Each comes with smashed avocado, freshly roasted corn and chickpeas, tomatoes, purple cabbage, and a drizzle of lemon caper aioli. True to the owners’ mission, some of these veggies change depending on availability at the market. Other favorites include Street Spuds (roasted baby potatoes, avocado, spicy lime/cayenne roasted chickpeas, chives, and caper aioli), The Sweet Shallot Flatbread (caramelized onions, smashed roasted garlic, arugula, and balsamic), and The Mushroom Cap (roasted portobello, arugula, roasted red pepper, caramelized shallots, and creamy balsamic dressing pressed into a hot panini). For the sweet tooths, the Chocolate Pizza made with chocolate avocado mousse will surely satisfy.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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From farmers’ markets to sports stadiums
While only one year old, the eatery has already gained much attention from the Trenton community, earning a spot in Trenton’s Town Topics Reader’s Choice Awards in 2018, along with attracting a loyal customer base of regulars. In the future, the couple hopes to branch out into sports stadiums to provide “clean, fun foods” to fans looking for an allergen-friendly or healthy option. “We’re a big sports family,” the couple explained.

For Wnek and Avitto, this business isn’t about profit. It’s about changing lives by providing a much-needed service to others. “We’ve seen a lot of sadness in our lives thus far whether it be mental health or physical health, and we just want to make everyone’s life better and happier. If we can do that with a California Flatbread or a Rainbow Taco, we’re going for it. We figure if we follow our passion, the money will follow.”

 

Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.



Image credit: Lady and the Shallot

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