Vegetarian and vegetable foods are not the same.
An Oreo is technically vegetarian, Jenna Baker told Knox News, but that’s not the kind of food she plans to bring to her new fast-paced, plant-based diner Vidl, scheduled to open in the spring of 2022 in Old Town.
The business will be located in the former home of Blühen Botanicals at 111 E. Jackson Ave. and will offer take-out and take-out meals that promote good health.
The restaurant will also offer wellness education, and its name is an interpretive spelling of “food,” an archaic word for “food.”
Baker plans for customers of his established boxed food service to pick up orders from the new space by the end of January.
Take-home meals, packaged as Be Well Boxes, come with ingredients for salads, plant-based entrees, soups, and desserts that can make 10-20 meals.
Baker has been selling the boxes since 2019 in a small space in The Glowing Body Yoga & Healing Arts building, 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 late 2019,” he said. “He had spent four months figuring out how to package food and sell it. So he was in a position to continue 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 take out meals, became so popular that she decided to hire additional help and extend the days when boxes were available for pickup.
Baker started selling himself, he said, and had to cut out takeout meals.
The Old Town property, of which Vidl will utilize 4,000 square feet, will allow take-out meals to return, along with Be Well Boxes and a new sitting experience.
Baker has hired his partner Laura Lyke, who owns the building and became interested in the Vidl concept.
The space includes a glazed room for growing vegetables, which customers can see while dining. The hydroponic systems that Blühen used to grow hemp will be replaced by plant beds.
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Behind the glass room is an open space for yoga classes, cooking classes and other kinds of educational opportunities, which Baker plans to offer with the help of like-minded community groups when the restaurant is closed for the night.
From good food to nutrition
While Baker’s expertise is in fine dining, he discovered his passion for plant-based nutrition through continuing education at 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 her nutrition program, which changed my trajectory a bit again,” she said. “And I thought, as I got older, I thought I had to start work to get out of the kitchens, which is why I resisted the idea of starting a prepared food business.
“I wanted to teach. But seeing how effective it was really made me change my mind.”
Moving to Knoxville, Baker quickly saw a need for plant-based foods and a lack of services to meet the demand.
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Focused on healthy eating, techniques
Vidl’s new space has a full kitchen, a major upgrade from its 200-square-foot workspace north of downtown.
The North Knoxville space has just an undercounter dishwasher, a refrigerator, two sinks, and a small oven.
“I’m cooking on two induction burners,” he said. “We produce several hundred meals a week in that space, almost 500 meals.”
Vidl will not fry food and avoid refined products, Baker said, focusing instead on offerings with ingredients from regional producers. Baker will incorporate fresh vegetables throughout the menu, rather than meat substitutes.
“Because again, it’s better quality, it tastes better, it’s fresher, it’s more nutrient dense,” he said. “And then when we prepare them, we use techniques that are also healthy …
“Most of the vegetables are roasted or steamed. We only use enough salt to enhance the flavor.”
More things you should know before you go
Labor requirements and the quality of ingredients will be reflected in food costs, but Baker wants the menu to be accessible.
“You can’t compare it to lower-quality foods, so … you’re definitely going to see a $ 12 salad,” he said. “But that salad is going to be a lot of salad. I’d 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 pick-up.
“There is so much stigma even around the word ‘healthy’ food, as it is not good,” Baker said. “First, this is really delicious food and it turns out to be healthy … It’s not about diet culture. It’s about eating really well.”