Taking root

Sarah Smellie
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Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free fare growing more popular

Matthew Finateri, owner of Tulip Baroo Vegan Catering, with test batches of vanilla blueberry cupcakes and chai cupcakes.
— Photo by Sarah Smellie/Special to The Telegram

In his sweet-smelling downtown apartment, Matthew Finateri carefully places a bright blue fondant moon onto a cloud of cupcake-top icing.

The vegan gluten-free vanilla-blueberry cupcakes — sparkling fondant moons and all — are just a test batch. If he thinks they’re good enough, they’ll be added to the menu of Tulip Baroo Vegan Catering, the catering company he started in February.

A registered home-based food operation, Tulip Baroo offers vegan gluten- and wheat-free cookies, cupcakes, squares and cakes.

He even bakes four-tier wedding cakes.

“You know those book order fliers you’d get in elementary school?” he says. “Well, I’d always go for the baking books. I’ve always been into baking. And I’m a vegan. I decided to do gluten- and wheat-free products because I saw the demand for them while I was working at The Sprout.”

From Tulip Baroo to the Happy Hummus Hut and Nourish Gluten Free Bakery, Finateri is part of a growing group of entrepreneurs catering to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.

For most, it’s a welcome change in the city’s culinary landscape. Five years ago, the dearth of meat-free menu items was a common beef — or lack thereof — for vegetarians, vegans and other people with special diets.

Finateri chuckles as he recalls his standard order at a typical restaurant.

“Chef’s salad with no cheese, no egg, no meat and Catalina dressing,” he says. “There wasn’t much else.”

First facility

Julia Bloomquist, owner of The Sprout restaurant, was a vegetarian when she moved here in 2003.

Her standard restaurant order before The Sprout: “Pasta and tomato sauce.”

When she opened The Sprout in 2005, it was the first full-fledged vegetarian restaurant in the city.

“When we were renovating the building, a lot of people walking by expressed doubt as to whether or not we’d succeed, having only vegetarian food on the menu,” she says. “People would say under their breath, ‘Oh, they’re nuts.’ I found that surprising because I knew that there was a market. But what I found the most surprising was that, when we opened, the majority of our clientele were meat eaters looking for variety in their diet. Some had suffered heart attacks or had health problems.”

Bloomquist says she has seen a real shift in people’s attitudes towards meat-free and other special diets.

“When I go to the grocery store and unload all my veggies and legumes, the people around me and the cashiers will say, ‘Good on you, girl,’” she says. “They used to say what a sin it was, as if I was depriving myself of a vital food source.”

The Sprout continues to serve mostly meat eaters who have adopted more meat-free meals into their diets, says Bloomquist.

And The Sprout team has always tried to encourage this: Bloomquist often takes phone calls from regulars who want to ask her about recipes or cooking tips, and the staff is always free to tell curious customers how menu items are made.

While Bloomquist hopes The Sprout has helped

St. John’s embrace more plant-based food, she sees a larger movement going on.

“There’s a new awareness that vegetarian cuisine can be super flavourful, and that it’s not challenging to make,” she says. “And of course there’s a re-emergence of the farming and gardening traditions, and setting up these little roadside gardens. People are really interested in varying their diets and incorporating fresh produce into their meals.”

Changing diets

Hlynn Kenny, the owner of the Happy Hummus Hut, which opened in June, is one such person.

“I had been on the Standard American Diet, and I had gotten up to a size 24,” says Kenny. “When I started changing my diet and incorporating more vegetarian and vegan foods, I was working downtown and there were very few fresh, healthy, affordable food alternatives.”

Kenny figured that if she was looking for new options, there were probably others looking for them, too. So she did a bit of market research and found that she was right.

She opened the Happy Hummus Hut, at 208 Duckworth St., where she serves vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free wraps, dips and desserts.

She agrees St. John’s is seeing a fresh change in its restaurant and bakery offerings.

“Things have come a long way,” she says. “And I think it’s just the information age. For me, making a switch out of the Standard American Diet was the result of information I got from friends, but switching to vegan food and learning how to eat it and prepare it so it tastes good, that all came from the Internet. I think that’s what’s making all the difference.”

Internet inspiration

Finateri agrees — he developed Tulip Baroo’s gluten-free flour mix from a basic mix he found on the Internet.

He says a wider knowledge about how food, especially wheat, is processed is inspiring people to turn to freshly grown, plant-based and gluten-free options.

“It all seems to be part of a wider food movement,” he says. “And it’s definitely bringing about a change for the better.”

Organizations: Bloomquist.And The Sprout, Happy Hummus Hut

Geographic location: February.A

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Recent comments

  • SR
    September 06, 2012 - 21:06

    I personally think this is wonderful! The picture shows true character and shows exactly the what is so good about this new catering business. It shows how he is determined and loves what he's doing enough that everything is baked at his home and share the wonderfulness of his product to the rest of St. John's!

  • dm
    August 31, 2012 - 17:54

    Give this guy a break people. He is young, enthusiastic and, like he said, picked the wrong backdrop for the photo. People are brutal with their barbed comments. I bet you any money that none of these negative commentors will EVER be the demographic that this business person is aiming for. They more than likely have no clue what gluten free etc even is. Keep up the positivity and don't let the haters get you down. I worked in a restaurant once where we made our own caesar salads (the wait staff that is) and we used to eat from the fork that we used to mix the salad up with. And it was the "best" caesar in town!! lol.

  • J.r.Smallwood
    August 27, 2012 - 10:40

    It is so great that the St. John's food industry is growing to accommodate a plethora of palates, but it is not only happening here. There are a number of successful businesses around the island that are following these healthier trends: Java Jacks in Rocky Harbour, and Two Whales in Port Rexton to name a couple. This island once worked very hard to feed itself, whether by building and filling cellars, or fishing ferociously. It is about time we started taking pride again in the food we eat! Congratulations Matthew, Julia & Hlynn! I wish you all kinds of fine success.

  • Matthew Finateri
    August 27, 2012 - 07:24

    Hi all! Thanks for the input and support! Although in hindsight, a photo with a prettier background would have been a better idea, I would just like to point out that this picture was taken in my dining room- separately from where my products are produced. What you see in the background is the corner of the room where I store my recyclables and jackets. I had chosen my dining room as the most suitable and comfortable place for the interview as I finished off my test batches. However, I would expect the majority of folks to be understanding that any home-based food operation is going to contain items and scenes such as that depicted in this picture, as it is, after all, somebody's home. And although these items, to some, may look out of place given the nature of the article, they do not violate any of the guidelines for home-based food preparation by being "on-sight". Health Guidelines for the home-based food preparation industry: http://www.servicenl.gov.nl.ca/licenses/env_health/food/premises/homebase.pdf Cheers!

  • Nic
    August 27, 2012 - 00:30

    It's understandable that there is a concern about the beer cases, and no hair net, but keep in mind he is just testing them out! There's a huge difference in cooking/baking for yourself, and doing it for others. When i'm baking something only I will eat, I don't take as much care in that stuff. But when i do cakes for other people, I do. Keep up the great work!

  • J
    August 26, 2012 - 23:07

    Morris and CMC's points are definitely well-taken. From having worked in food-service industry, I will say from personal experience that having a hair-net isn't mandatory IF you're wearing a HAT (as opposed to a visor like you see in most fast-food restaurants), BUT because he has he hat backwards, he's got exposed hair and the points are like I said, valid. I think this was just a posed picture though.

  • dorothy Coady
    August 26, 2012 - 20:03

    Seems to me that this picture is quite telling! Outside clothes hanging in the background, beer bottles stacked on the floor, baker with baseball cap on backwards. It leaves me with the impression that this is not the proper place to display baked goods for public consumption. About 25-30 years ago I had the idea of starting a small home bakery. After speaking with the Dept of Health I was informed that a license was required (around $250 at the time), all baking utensils, bowls, stove, fridge and all related items and supplies had to be separate from the general area of the family kitchen. If this was the policy then, how is it, that this picture doesn't appear to fit that criteria? The article says these cupcakes were a test batch. I say, where is the guarantee? I've seen some strange unsanitary things done when people handle food in bakeries, restaurants etc. How can we make employers/employees understand the importance of the "sanitary" way of handling food? And where is the Dept of Health on all of this? They may issue licences, but when and how often do they check up on establishments "unannounced"? Just wondering!!

    • Matthew Finateri
      August 27, 2012 - 08:31

      Hi Dorothy, I am not familiar with any of the details and circumstances surrounding the home-based bakery you wanted to open. However, I get the impression that what you were proposing then and what I am doing now, are two different things. Please be aware, I do not "display" any baked goods in my home, nor am I even licensed to. I do not run a public venue, where customers come into my home and purchase baked goods. My products are prepared in my kitchen, wrapped up or stored in sealed containers and then shipped to their destination. I operate solely as a food "preparation" service, and I abide by the health guidelines set by the government for such a service. You can find those guidelines here: http://www.servicenl.gov.nl.ca/licenses/env_health/food/premises/homebase.pdf Please take note that this set of guidelines does not stipulate any restriction of having empty recyclables or outdoor clothing stored on the premises, nor does it restrict the use of wearing a "baseball cap on backwards". I have been working in the food service industry for much of the past twelve years. I am confident and diligent in my food-handling abilities and procedures in regards to your comments. I hope this helps to ease any of the concerns you have. Thanks for your understanding!

  • bestkind
    August 26, 2012 - 12:24

    I completely disagree with Morris. If you have ever been to a house downtown you would see a stack of beer cases in any house in the corner. I have a stack in my house but its not dirty. Plus if you think a hair net is used in any kitchen in an restaurant you go to your living in a fantasy world bah. Im every kitchen I have ever worked in there was no gloves or hair nets used and it was bestkind. I like Matthew's service because it goes back to the old style of making baked goods at home, not a well oiled cupcake kitchen. Its like your grandmudders cupcakes, not my nans of coure no one can make it better than hers, but like your grandmudders cupcakes. I think this is a fabulous picture, ad and a sweet idea. Put a bickie aside for me!

  • cmc
    August 26, 2012 - 07:37

    I agree with Morris. This is a definitely non-food safe photo, and I hope that is not his regular mode of producing his product. Having a home-based food business is tricky, when you do not have an exclusive area set aside, free from the influences of the rest of your existence.

  • Ed
    August 26, 2012 - 07:11

    Lol....I noticed the beer cases too! H'ows she gittin on by wit dem cupcakes???

  • Kristen
    August 25, 2012 - 14:16

    Good luck with it! This is a fantastic - and no doubt delicious - venture!

  • Morris
    August 25, 2012 - 10:48

    Great idea, no doubt a good product. However, with beer cases stacked in the corner,( not a good image) and not wearing a hair-net, THIS IS NOT A GOOD ADD FOR THE PRODUCT!!!!!!!!!

    • FancyFeet
      August 26, 2012 - 18:22

      What happens to beer bottles in restaurants? They get stacked in the corner! A lot of kitchens do not use hair nets either....