One World Cafe
by Bonnie North
At the One World Café on University Boulevard, there’s a feeling, a vibe, that you won’t really find anywhere else in Baltimore. One World is one of the few all-vegetarian restaurants here, but there’s something more than just that crunchy-green, hip, “clear-conscience” feeling to the place… It feels homey—it feels real, and it feels well, worldly, at the same time.
Maybe it’s because it’s a genuine family-run business, owned by two sisters, Sue and Cindy Novak, who make you feel like you’re visiting in their own home (which it kind of is).
Maybe it’s because the original One World Café, down on South Charles Street (in the location occupied now by Metropolitan) was opened back in the early 90s by a young woman from Brazil, Isabel Fabara-Currey, who gave the vegetarian restaurant concept some much needed worldly sophistication.
And maybe some of that nice, for–real feeling comes from the fact that Chef Sue Novak got her start in the vegetarian culinary world more than 20 years ago when she designed the Mountain Peoples’ Kitchen co-op restaurant in Morgantown, West Virginia. Sue explains: “I grew up here in Baltimore… but I did my thing, kinda spread my wings—traveled around, lived in Arizona and California, and ended up going to school at West Virginia University in Morgantown. While I was in school I got a job at a place that was just starting out…just a little tiny café adjacent to a natural foods store. It wasn’t even built yet…it was just an idea we had.”
Sue got to design the kitchen to her own specifications. “It was only an empty warehouse when we started. I got to have the counters all built to my measurements and I designed the whole menu. And it was a member-owned cooperative too. So I felt like it was my place, and this is where I really feel in love with cooking.”
The Mountain Peoples’ Kitchen was an immediate success and is still going strong. Sue worked there for 11 years and helped to make it the hub of Morgantown’s thriving alternative community.
Sue is naturally talented in the kitchen and doesn’t like to call herself a chef. “‘Chef’ makes me think of somebody who is trained, who went to France, who does all kinds of fou-fou dishes. I learned to cook from my mom when I was 14.”
There are challenges to developing a well-rounded menu that is purely vegetarian, but Sue is propelled by her personal commitment. “I became a vegetarian when I was 18, partly for ethical reasons, because I love animals so much. Once I gave up meat I also began to realize just how harmful it can be for us. So I thought: ‘Well, now I need to learn to cook for myself.’ So I took classes on macrobiotics. I went to seminars on vegan cooking.”
After 11 years at Mountain Peoples’ Kitchen, Sue did start to feel like she was ready for a change. “I was visiting my family at Christmas when I saw Isabel’s ad. She was looking for a vegetarian chef to open up her second location for One World Café. I told her: ‘You hire me and I will make this place a success.’ I started working first at the South Charles Street café while this spot was being finished. When it was ready, I came up here… That was in 1999, the rest is history.”
In the course of that history, Sue’s sister Cindy came on board three years ago as the general manager, and 17 months ago the sisters formed a partnership and bought the café from Isabel. “We take turns as far as decision-making goes. She’ll make one decision and I’ll say: ‘OK, I’ve got the next one!’ That’s what we’ve been doing every since we were kids.”
Meanwhile, the niche in which vegetarian cooking has always resided has opened up wider and wider. “It just blows my mind how much it’s changed. I can remember going to the Natural Foods Expo, and it would just be two rooms—now it’s two floors! One whole floor is just for organic…I love it!” Sue exclaims.
At One World the focus is on healthy and that means more than just fat-free or meatless. It means wholesome ingredients. It means all homemade. It also means fresh, and whenever possible, local. In spite of those high ideals, the prices at One World are still competitive with other restaurants that may not make that commitment. Sue explains, “Prices, especially for produce, fluctuate so much. I work with what I call my ‘$10 window.’ I always try to find the best I can and I allow myself to spend up to $10 more for the organic, the local.” And since the entire menu, not just a few specialty items, is built on that premise, Sue can buy in larger quantities.
One World’s wonderful vegan pastries are made by Kelly Fritzi, the gal who tactfully pointed out to me that honey is not vegan. “I use other sweeteners like the agave nectar in my macaroons, or raw sugar—never white!” In spite of the stringent requirements of vegan cooking, the gorgeous pastries and desserts at One World stand up beautifully to traditional fare in looks, texture and taste. Having mastered the difficult art of baking without eggs or dairy, Kelly is now working on developing gluten-free recipes for those who have wheat allergies.
Once a bit of an oddity in the culinary world, the vegetarian restaurant is coming into its own. As Sue puts it: “We’re just now in the right time frame where people are ready to make a change in their lives. You know…cut back on the meat and dairy. Women are concerned about how their diet affects aging, and people just want to eat better.”
One World Café
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