Vegetarian and plant-based foods are not the same thing.
An Oreo technically is vegetarian, Jenna Baker told Knox News, but that is not the type of food she plans on bringing to her new fast-casual and plant-based restaurant, Vidl, scheduled to open spring 2022 in the Old City.
The business will be located in the former home of Blühen Botanicals at 111 E. Jackson Ave. and will offer dine-in and to-go meals that promote good health.
The restaurant also will offer wellness education, and its name is an interpretative spelling of “victual,” an archaic word for “food.”
Baker plans for customers of her already-established boxed meal service to pick up orders from the new space by the end of January.
The take-home meals, packaged as Be Well Boxes, come with ingredients for salads, plant-based entrees, soups and desserts that can make between 10 and 20 meals.
Baker has been selling the boxes since 2019 out of a small space in The Glowing Body Yoga & Healing Arts building just north of downtown on Irwin Street.
“In March (2020), everyone else was trying to do what I had been doing on my own terms since the end of 2019,” she said. “I had spent four months figuring out how to package food and sell it. And so I was in a position to just keep doing business, which had its own stressors.”
Back to the roots in a new space
The model for her Cook to be Well business, which started in 2018 with grab-and-go meals, became so popular she decided to hire additional help and expand the days boxes were available for pickup.
Baker began selling out, she said, and had to cut the grab-and-go meals.
The Old City property, of which Vidl will use 4,000 square feet, will allow the grab-and-go meals to return, along with Be Well Boxes and a new sit-down experience.
Baker has brought on business partner Laura Lyke, who owns the building and became interested in the Vidl concept.
The space includes a glass room for growing vegetables, which customers will be able to see while dining. The hydroponic systems Blühen used to grow hemp will be replaced with plant beds.
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Behind the glass room is an open space for yoga classes, cooking classes and other types of educational opportunities, which Baker plans to offer with help from like-minded community groups when the restaurant is closed in the evenings.
From fine dining to nutrition-minded
While Baker’s background is in fine dining, she found a passion for plant-based nutrition through continuing education with Cornell University.
She used that training while working with an organization that offers outdoor therapy for young adults with cancer.
“I started cooking and organizing their nutrition program, which kind of shifted my trajectory a little bit again,” she said. “And I thought, as I’m getting older, I thought I needed to start to work my way out of kitchens, which is why I resisted the idea of starting a prepared foods business.
“I wanted to teach. But seeing how effective that was really sort of changed my mind.”
Upon moving to Knoxville, Baker quickly saw a need for plant-based food and a lack of services to meet the demand.
Focused on healthy food, techniques
The new Vidl space has a full kitchen, a major upgrade from her 200-square-foot working space north of downtown.
The North Knoxville space has just one under-counter dishwasher, a refrigerator, two sinks and a small oven.
“I’m cooking on two induction burners,” she said. “We produce several hundred meals a week out of that space — nearly 500 meals.”
Vidl will not fry food and will avoid refined products, Baker said, instead focusing on offerings with ingredients from regional growers. Baker will incorporate fresh vegetables throughout the menu, rather than meat replacements.
“Because, again, it’s better quality, it tastes better, it’s fresher, it’s more nutrient-dense,” she said. “And then when we prepare those, we’re using techniques that are also healthy. …
“Most of your vegetables are going to be roasted or steamed. We only use enough salt to enhance the flavor.”
More things to know before you go
The labor requirements and quality of ingredients will be reflected in the food costs, but Baker wants the menu to be accessible.
“It can’t compare to lower quality food, so … you’re definitely going to see a $12 salad,” she said. “But that salad is going to be a lot of salad. I would say an average ticket would probably be around $15 (for lunch).”
Baker plans to keep the restaurant open for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with extended hours in the evening for classes and Be Well Boxes pickup.
“There’s so much stigma to even the word ‘healthy’ food, as in it’s not good,” Baker said. “First, this is just really delicious food, and it happens to be healthy. … It’s not about diet culture. It’s about eating really well.”