The owner of Maggie’s Raw Love Café, Maggie Fils-Aime, lost a little wind in her sails when her head chef bolted for a new gig four years ago.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fils-Aime already considered herself a good cook, but churning out raw diet food for a small eatery still developing its clientele would be a different beast altogether.
Transitioning to raw food—or uncooked products, usually vegetables and fruits—is more than a shift in diet, it’s a spiritual awakening for many, a life-altering decision and complete transformation that changes everything about how a person analyzes what they allow into their body.
Fils-Aime, who’d emigrated to the United States more than three decades ago, received the crucial boost of confidence she so needed to salvage her business when a friend encouraged her to cook the meals herself. That friend, who has since passed, purchased Fils-Aime a dehydrator—a common tool for “raw” cooking—and the cafe owner soon started concocting her own delicious organic food: tuna, lasagna and eggplant gumbo. She now gets help from her daughter Sheiva Gourdain, who also works at the cafe. Both mom and daughter have adopted a mostly vegetarian and vegan diet for themselves as well.
“I think ultimately our goal here was to be able to provide the community a place that they could go to connect, whether it was with their mind or body or spirit, with no judgment,” Gourdain tells the Press.
Maggie’s Raw Love Café could easily get overshadowed in Rockville Centre, a village with no shortage of popular eateries and haunts. But after eight years, the café continues to serve a dedicated customer base that is still growing. Customers have travelled from as far away as Connecticut and Boston to experience the wealth of flavors that bursts from the new dishes, which mimic “normal” food (tuna fish is replaced with almonds or cashews and seaweed is added to create a fishy flavor; lasagna noodles are actually sliced zucchini).
“There’s nothing healthy in this town,” Fils-Aime remembers thinking before opening the eatery. “There’s bars and a bunch of greasy food.”
Healthy eateries are slowly popping up across Long Island and—dare we say—hitting the mainstream. People are constantly looking for healthy choices and it’s not unusual to see people change their eating habits—or at least try to—on Jan. 1, though most are dreadfully unsuccessful. According to a Scranton University poll released in 2012, only 46 percent of people maintained their New Year’s Resolutions through the first six months of the year.
It’s not just the raw diet that people are yearning for. A healthy salad, wrap or sandwich will suffice as long as they can cut fatty and unhealthy foods out of their diet. Eateries specializing in fresh and healthy choices are all around, offering a wide variety of dishes.
Maggie’s Raw Love Cafe has transformed into a raw food hub for LI’s organic food lovers. This dish, sweet potato pasta, decorated with fresh tomoatoes, gushes with flavor.[/caption]
Take Gourmet Grill 5 in Mineola, for example. Inside this cozy brick eatery adjacent to the Mineola train station anyone can feed their craving for a healthy meal by picking up a chopped salad or a low-calorie wrap. It also just recently started offering gluten-free bread, burger rolls and wraps, which became an instant hit thanks to customers with gluten allergies spreading the word to others who can’t—or just choose not to—have gluten in their diet.
Gourmet Grill sells on average 50 to 100 salads each day. Mondays and Tuesdays are especially busy days for chopped salads, which feature any handful of choices from its menu of more than a dozen toppings—from beets, cauliflower and kidney beans to roasted peppers, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. The early week health-food rush is most likely due to overindulging during the weekend, surmises Gourmet Grill’s owner, Vincent Pepitone.
Pepitone receives near-daily deliveries of fresh produce from local markets and tries his best to make even historically unhealthy food, such as cheeseburgers, as healthy as possible. The beef is 98-percent Angus, and the burger is char-grilled—so the fat melts off, but the juice never stops swimming inside the meat. Even the chicken is free of antibiotics and hormones, he says.
“I think it’s really just caring about the food,” Pepitone says of his success throughout nine years in Mineola. “It’s what I would want to eat.”
In Massapequa, 42-year-old Chris Margulies follows a similar philosophy as Maggie’s Raw Love Café. He started Organic Corner nearly three years ago with the goal of selling healthy goods—hot and cold food by order, vegan and vegetarian options, vitamin supplements and produce—and serving up a juice bar because of a feeling that the “South Shore is just neglected when it comes to health,” he says.
Margulies, a child athlete who played hockey in college, could be easily mistaken for a nutritionist or a doctor (though he doesn’t profess to be) the way he talks about alkaline diets, acidity, the digestive process and how juicing—drinking vegetable-based liquids (which he offers) to replace regular meals for a certain time period—“recalibrates” the palate and puts the body at full-digestive rest for the first time since childhood. Cut out dairy and red meat entirely, he says, and “you’re 100-percent healthier.” Don’t get him started on sugar.
In a short time, Organic Corner, with its Starbucks-esque seating and comfortable work area, has become a popular place where like-minded people gather to share stories about their lifestyle changes, Margulies included.
“Health is like oxygen,” he says. “You don’t know how important it is until you lose it.”
Operating a health-food market or restaurant is inherently risky because of the cost of producing healthy options. But Margulies says he’s 100-percent committed to the cause and believes more people are re-assessing how they want to live their lives.
Yes, he laments, it will cost customers more to eat healthy. But to him, it’s a worthwhile investment.
“Have you ever seen a bill when you get sick?” he asks.