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Michigan’s Certified Organic Restaurant

05/06/10 0 Comments

Feeding Your Mind and Nourishing Your Body the Right Way

Food should taste good, as well as be good for you. I have been eating mostly organic for years now and I can tell the difference. There are many restaurants serving organic meals, but very few that are certified organic. Only one in five states offers a certified organic restaurant. And the Midwest is fortunate to have one in Michigan. Mind, Body & Spirits restaurant is different; it is nourishment done the right way.

Michigan’s first certified organic restaurant is in downtown Rochester. Yes, Michigan has a Rochester too. Mind, Body & Spirits (MBS) opened its doors on Halloween 2008 and became certified USDA Organic a year later by Oregon Tilth, a third-party nonprofit organization.

“An eco-conscious restaurant serving local and organic meals in a casual inspired atmosphere,” is printed at the top of the MBS menu.

MBS is nearly 100 percent organic and uses over 90 percent local ingredients. For instance, the pepperoni and portabella wood oven flatbread uses pepperoni from Graham’s Organic Meats and provolone is from Oliver Farms—two local Michigan businesses.

Not only does Mind, Body & Spirits provide a sustainable restaurant with local and organic food, they make it very easy for anyone with food allergies or other dietary needs (or concerns) to eat the way they want. While meat is on the menu, MBS has a variety of options for every taste. A dietary guide is listed on the menu to help guests choose meals that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and dairy free.

A giant list of organic and local beverages gives you a wonderful selection of coffees, teas, and sodas, as well as hand-crafted beer and wine. MBS also has a full-service bar with liquors, such as Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin and Papagayo Organic White Rum.

Factoid cards about the restaurant are on every table, plus the staff really knows their stuff. If you ask as I did, they will tell you all about the eco-friendly environment you are sitting in. A completely renovated 100-year-old structure (one of the finest brick buildings in the county) now uses the latest green-energy innovations. Geothermal heat pumps are used to heat and cool the building and Trombe Walls are used to help store and displace the radiant heat from sun-facing parts of the building.

Solar panels on the roof supply electricity and hot water to the restaurant. And Energy Recovery Ventilators are used to recycle and recover a large portion of the air while still providing clean, fresh air to the patrons.

Looking closely at the restaurant, you learn the floor is made from bamboo and recycled cork, the table tops are made from compressed sunflower seeds, and the outdoor patio deck is constructed with recycled milk jugs and tires; they really have thought of everything in an eco-conscience manner.

Mind, Body & Spirits continues to gain attention from local and national celebrities and has received local awards, such as Best Green Restaurant 2009 and Best New Vegetarian Restaurant 2010. You may think this type of business would do better in California. However, in Michigan it is one of a kind. Michigan is in an economic slump, more so than the rest of the country. MBS has provided over 30 new jobs, preserved an historic building, and leads the way for sustainable education in the area.

MBS not only trains their staff to understand the preparation of organic food and the way green-energy works in the restaurant, they also have educational programs for school field trips and other groups interested in what they do. It is a working lab with a hands-on approach to learning. For example, take a walk into their beautiful, on-site greenhouse. The greenhouse supplies herbs for the restaurant and rain-water is collected to keep the thirsty plants alive. Also, while in the greenhouse, check-out the bio-digester. It’s a large machine that grinds up all the food waste and other biodegradable materials. It then dehydrates them into clean and organic compost, some of which is given back to the local farms where MBS buys many of their food products.

Mike Pleze, owner of MBS, says that the restaurant “serves many purposes; it helps the environment, it helps your health, and it helps our economy.” I am pleased to find out that many of the food choices will change eight times per year. Pleze says the menu will reflect the time of the seasons.

Challenges and Next Steps
I inquired with the restaurant about what the challenges of being organic were and Chef Stewart McWilliams replied, “If I was asked that a year ago, I would have said, sourcing enough products was our biggest challenge. Now that we’ve been open for a year and half, we have found plenty of organic products and are able to get it easily. Now our focus has shifted and our biggest challenge has changed. Now I’m trying to make organic food more affordable for our guests. Although we’ve found plenty of food that’s organic, many of the items are only available from only one company which makes it hard to get competitive pricing. We need to be competitive with restaurants serving conventional food; I don’t want people to have to sacrifice eating healthy because of the price. There will always be a price difference between conventional and organic but I’m going to narrow the gap.”

The strict guidelines of handling, storing and preparing every product that comes into the restaurant to be Certified Organic reveals itself with smell and taste. You know the food is a high quality, fresh product. I asked what was in store for MBS in 2010 and they responded by saying: “This year we will continue to work with local farmers to grow and store more produce so we can use more local product in the non-growing season. Last summer we were over 90 percent local and were able to get produce into the first week of February. Although it was a small amount, the farmers that did try storing through the winter so they could supply us in the cold months were very happy. They are committed to doing more this year and maybe we won’t have a gap at all with local produce. We will continue to work with our local farmers and build a network that we believe will, one day, provide us with all of our organic needs year-round, without going out of state.”

Mind, Body & Spirits
301 South Main Street
Rochester, MI 48307
248-651-3663; www.mindbodyspirits.com

Michael Dwyer is a travel columnist, freelance writer, and broadcast journalist living in southeast Michigan. He writes about travel, relationships, and dating. He is founder of the Rochester Writers’ Conference and can be reached at michael@rochesterwriters.com.