Sitting down eating a delicious vegan crab cake prepared just for me at Sprout Natural Choice, I had a chance to speak with the owner who gave me a more detailed view on the restaurant and the health food that they offer.
You’re a vegan/health food restaurant, what does this mean? What kinds of foods do you have on your menu?
We have smoothies and our smoothies start off with no dairy. They’re all greens, all natural food. What you see is what you get and it’s all based on how the customer wants to have it. They can customize their own smoothie if they want, they can customize their own salad. It’s all on catering to how the customers feel. We have salads and sandwiches with no animal products at all – it’s all vegan.
Do you eat vegan all the time?
I eat vegetarian. I’m trying to cut out the cheese part. I’m still working on that.
How long have you had this diet?
I went vegetarian about five years ago and it was just so hard for me to find somewhere to eat. So as I started traveling the west coast I started noticing a lot of healthy shops like this. When I came back I said, “We need something like this in Baltimore,” so we found a place in Catonsville to be the landmark of Sprout.
What is your personal favorite? Why would you recommend this to readers?
My personal favorite thing on the menu is the falafel and the crabcake. You know [Maryland] is the landmark of crab cakes, the home of crab cakes. I worked very hard on this recipe and came up with a vegan version of a crab cake and it’s been a hit ever since.
How do you make a vegan crabcake?
Basically the base of it is TVP, textured vegetable protein. We use that as the base – the actual crab meat. Then we take the traditional way of adding parsley, Old Bay of course, and a little bit of TLC.
Why should non-vegan/non-vegetarian diners come into your restaurant and what would you recommend to them?
First and foremost, the first thing that comes to me when you ask me that is health and longevity. If you eat right and you feed yourself the right things you’re going to feel better and you’re going to live longer. So if you care about your health, this is the first place you should stop into. You just feed your body right and your body will thank you later.
Do you use local produce and other ingredients?
We try to do local produce when the season is here. We get a lot of our kales and spinach from a local farmer’s market on Sundays. We create that relationship together but once their season is done, I have to go elsewhere.
How does your restaurant stand out from other restaurants in the area?
Consistency. I always push that with my staff members. It’s not just about getting [customers] in and getting them out. Creating a relationship with customers – I’d say 70-80 percent of our customers are repeat customers. We know customers by name and often times we know what customers want before they ever say anything. It’s all about having that relationship with customers and that’s what sets us apart from other places.
In addition to food you have a number of juices and smoothies available, can you tell readers about these?
On a daily basis we have customers that might feel sluggish, might feel tired, might have your gym people coming in that want a boost so we have what we call boosters, all natural boosters that are made out of plant based proteins, hemp, maca powder, chia seeds, spirulina and all of these things have value to your body in a natural way. Spirulina is good for eyesight, maca powder is good for energy and bulking up and hemp is good for fiber. So if you have all these things to add to your smoothies and raw juices, the majority of our raw juices actually consist of hemp because when you’re juicing you take away all the fiber so we basically substitute that with hemp. We also have a wheatgrass protein that we offer now. I just try to involve new things into Sprout and not just do the same thing every day. It’s all about evolving and bringing new things to the table.
How have you grown since you first opened?
Oh big time. There were times when we first opened up and I was getting scared wondering why people weren’t coming in. It takes time to grow, it takes time for the word of mouth to grow and it takes a little bit of push from your family members, from your employees and from you. You have to do a little a marketing and get your brand out there. I never gave up. I was always told in the restaurant business, the first two years, the first year is very tough so you just kind of got to hold onto it.
Have you noticed a positive response from the community towards your business and your food?
Almost every day I get customers asking, “Where’s the next location?” or “Can we bring Sprout into downtown or to Columbia?” I get a lot of customers wanting me to expand and that motivates me to want to open up more locations in the near future. The sky’s the limit.
Have you changed your menu over time?
When we first opened up there were some things that were a hit and some things that were not a hit. So in due time I started keeping track of what was working and what was not working and keeping track of what people liked and what they didn’t like. I tweaked it a little bit and cut out the things that didn’t work and then added new things to the menu.