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Eye on nutrition: New cafe aims to meet special dietary needs

Michelle O'Reilly shows off a basket of hot chili peppers
Michelle O'Reilly, manager of The Gateway Cafe, shows off a basket of hot chili peppers and a spread of other fresh fruits and vegetables inside the new business at the Strasburg Emporium. The cafe is set to open Oct. 1. Rich Cooley/Daily

Fresh peaches hang on a scale
Fresh peaches hang on a scale inside The Gateway Cafe. Rich Cooley/Daily


By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Anyone who has ever had difficulty finding healthy food that caters to their food allergies is in for a sweet treat.

The Gateway Café, due to open Oct. 1 in place of the former Coffee Cafe at The Great Strasburg Emporium, at 160 N. Massanutten St., is more than the average food venue.

Owner Jeff Taylor explains that the cafe not only will serve food for people looking for a healthy meal and highlight local produce for sale, it also will focus its attention on customers with dietary needs, such as those who are diabetic or have food allergies.

"We need it, and no one else is going to do it," says store manager Michelle O'Reilly. "The community is lacking with a lot of health needs."

The cafe also invites customers to make suggestions for future meals, based on community need, and will promote area health and wellness initiatives.

"The concept is total health," says Jackie DeWitt, an aquatics instructor with Phoenix Fitness Center in Strasburg, who has been working with Taylor on a plan for the cafe's future. "We are offering a healthier way of life."

"The concept through the cafe is health consciousness," Taylor says. Though his idea began with combining a farmer's market with a place where customers can find foods to suit those with specific dietary concerns, the plan quickly blossomed to include health and wellness as well.

"Because it's just part of the healthy lifestyle," DeWitt says.

"You're not just going to eat right," Jennifer O'Ferrell, a nutritionist and certified personal trainer, says of health-conscious people. O'Ferrell, who has been helping the cafe with its nutrition goals, believes that people who choose to eat right also will want to exercise, benefiting from the total body experience.

"It's offering a better life," DeWitt says.

Taylor likes to think that the cafe will help its customers through lifestyle change, not simply through purchasing a meal or two.

"I'm not one that always practices what he preaches, because there's not always an alternative," Taylor says. He hopes the cafe will offer that alternative that so many residents might need, whether by choice or by a physician's directive.

"This will actually give people a chance to follow their doctor's order," he says.

Taylor, who began the Strasburg Farmer's Market two years ago, began thinking about the idea of a healthy cafe when he found himself in need of healthier food alternatives.

"The diabetic end is 'cause I found out the hard way two years ago when I became a diabetic," he says. Sugar-free food is difficult to find, he says, especially when trying to eat out at restaurants.

"All the food and baked goods for the cafe are made from local individuals from their home kitchens that are health inspected so the food is truly home cooking and baking."

The cafe will purchase food from local chefs and bakers, but it will also seek volunteers.

"We're always looking for volunteers," he says.

So far, the cafe intends to serve locally grown vegetables and fruits, gluten-free breads, desserts and pasta and hormone-free farm-grown meats and poultry.

"The farmers' market is tied into it," he says, explaining that the cafe will purchase its produce from other farmers' markets around Virginia, North and South Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

He mentions Richard's Fruit Market in Middletown and ShenVal Fruit Market in White Post as two local contributors.

Produce from the farmers' markets also will be used to make meals at the cafe.

Taylor hopes to later offer foods particular to those with dairy allergies, peanut allergies and other health needs.

"We're looking for more people to make those products," he says. "Anyone who wants to share a healthy recipe, that would definitely be appreciated and used."

"The cafe will purchase the products from their licensed, inspected kitchens," he says.

One such vendor will be Fay's Favorites -- featuring gluten free recipes, like chocolate zucchini bread -- by Fay Layman of Edinburg, he says.

"Her recipes are amazing," Taylor says.

O'Reilly also has plans to serve coffee and provide a wireless Internet connection in the cafe in the near future. Live music might also find its way onto the menu, she says.

"'Cause it's endless," she says. "There's so much we can do."

To those worried about the cost of a healthy lifestyle, DeWitt hopes to calm fears: "It's all at fair prices," she says of menu items.

"I think people especially in this area need to be educated about total fitness," O'Ferrell says. "Being healthy is a 365-day process," she says. "It's a matter of ... maintaining your immune system," to help prevent illness.

She believes this is more important than ever, "especially with the obesity epidemic."

"You're getting your recommended daily allowances of what you should," she says of the food the cafe will offer. "A lot of it's going to be portion controlled."

"Jeff's so good about seeing the whole picture," says DeWitt.

Though the cafe opening already has been delayed a couple of times, Taylor is aiming for an Oct. 1 grand opening.

"We'll have free samples on that day," he says.

For more information about the Gateway Cafe or to volunteer, call Jeff Taylor at 703-855-7193, e-mail Michelle O'Reilly at Sea1shell@live.com, or go online to www.strasburgfarmersmarket.com. Information about fitness programs is available at Phoenix Fitness and Aquatics in Strasburg at 465-9430.



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