By Sarah Robbins
Edited by Brett Weisband
Sharon Wright is making noodles out of zucchini and nacho cheese from cashews.
At her Good Life Cafe in West Columbia, you won't find a stove in the kitchen, but a dehydrator instead.
Wright creates raw and vegan dishes, a diet the former private chef came to after what she says were a litany of health problems and a realization she needed to do something different when her father and grandfather died of cancer. The restaurant, at 3681-D Leaphart Road, is Wright's way of spreading her belief that the diet is the key to health.
Business partners Scott Middleton and Danny Hutto helped her open the cafe, but Wright's passion keeps it going.
"Eating living food leads to longevity," Wright says. "I have incredible energy and just feel great. I feel fantastic."
A raw and vegan diet does not heat food above 115 degrees and has no animal products.
While raw and vegan restaurants are a West Coast norm, they've been slower to catch on on the East Coast, and especially in the Southeast with its fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy. Wright is still offering familiar dishes – pizza, pasta, burgers and burritos, but all with a healthy facelift.
Prices range from $6.95 for a kale salad to $14.95 for the sample plate, which includes three entrees and three sides. One popular item is the burger, made fresh daily from a variety of nuts, seeds, vegetables, spices and herbs.
The Carolina Reporter sat down with Wright to find out more about her restaurant, the only one in the area devoted to vegan and raw dishes, and the diet she's so passionate about.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Have there been any surprises that you didn't expect [in opening the restaurant]?
No, no. Well, you know, the growth, it's amazing. People would say, you know, Columbia's not ready for a raw restaurant, there's not that many people to support it, and it is. There's so many people that are out there looking for a healthy way to eat. They just, they need the knowledge.
Since a raw and vegan diet has impacted you personally so much, you've said that wanting to share the health benefits of this diet is part of what motivated you to open the restaurant. Other than providing this type of food, how do you see the restaurant as being part of it?
Well, we offer a lot of education as well. It's not just the food and all. We offer classes, we offer potluck once a month, we bring speakers in. So it's an educational place for people to equip themselves with the knowledge about eating healthy.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the classes?
Sure, we offer preparation classes that I teach every other Saturday. And what that is, is a lot of people come in and they think: "Oh, this is delicious. I can never do this. I tried raw food at home and it's too hard, the recipes are lengthy." And what my vision has been is to bring them in and show ‘em you can make delicious raw food in a very quick amount of time, and you don't need a five-page recipe. So that's what I teach. I teach them about equipment that you need with raw food. We teach them about juicing, so it's just, you know, real educational.
Why did you decide to put the restaurant in a strip shopping center in West Columbia, seven miles away from downtown where USC, Shandon, and all of that is?
Well, my partners own the gym next door, and what we try to do is try to incorporate it with working out, coming in and juicing, and eating healthy. So that is kind of why it is put beside in the strip mall.
If there is an opportunity to move downtown at some point, do you think you would work towards that?
We are. We are going to have a location downtown, but we will continue this. We're actually manufacturing a line of raw foods to sell to Earth Fare, Whole Foods, we'll go after Kroger and Publix. So our vision is much bigger than just this, but this will actually be a manufacturing area for our products, as well as still the cafe. ...
People seem to really love the tacos especially. Can you tell me a little bit more about those?
Those are divine. That is our No. 1 seller. The taco shells are made out of flaxseed; the cheeses and nut meat are made out of nuts. And then we make guacamole, salsa, it's just, they're divine. And a lot of people who are meat eaters who have never had raw food, when I sway ‘em on that, and it is a lot of swaying, they love it. They love it.
Getting the right balance of nutrients can be a challenge for someone following a special diet. How do you plan your dishes in order to maximize the amount of proteins and vitamins and nutrients that people are getting from your food?
You know, we really don't go into that because we're not nutritionists. We don't try to balance and everything. We just look for eye-appealing color, and we just try and mix up different vegetables, different colors, because each vegetable represents different nutrients. So when we go and do our sides for the day, we just make sure that they're full of color, because then they're full of vitamins...
The Sprout, which is a raw restaurant in Charleston, offers sort of mock Southern dishes like collards and mashed potatoes and gravy. What angle have you taken in trying to attract people who are hesitant to try raw and vegan food?
To be very ethnic. We wanted to create tastes and flavors that are different. We have Mexican flairs. We have Mediterranean flairs. We have Thai flairs. We do some Indian food. So we didn't want to be Southern. We wanted people to come in here and be able to taste dishes from around the world.