Every day aspiring chefs and restaurateurs are thinking small, opening food carts and stands to dip their toes in the small business waters. For Kristy Hammond and Sheree Walters, owners of Eugene’s vegan Cornbread Café, a food cart was just the beginning.
The two met on the internet, when Hammond responded to a posting from Walters titled “Vegan Entrepreneur.” They hit it off and a few short months later, the Cornbread Café food cart was open for business. “We looked at a couple of restaurant spaces and realized it wasn’t particularly feasible, and that it was less than it about being feasible – more about it being scary. I mean, there’s an 80 percent attrition rate when it comes to restaurants, they just seem to fall by the wayside within a year, so the food cart seemed like the most viable way to see if her recipes, her food, her ideas were as good as I thought they were,” says Hammond.
As it turns out, Hammond wasn’t the only one intrigued by the idea of vegan soul food. In under a year, the cart began selling product wholesale to the New Frontier Market, and the cart attracted a large following. “We did everything in our trailer. That was our kitchen; we didn’t use our home kitchens or any other space. It became quickly apparent that we were running out of room and that just from a storage standpoint that we were sort of capped,” says Hammond.
When it became time to renew their lease agreement with the cart, Hammond and Walters faced a decision. After a year in the cart, it was clear they had a proven product. Their wholesale business had potential to grow, and their loyal customer base begged for longer hours. It became clear; they needed a restaurant space.
Cornbread Cafe Gets A Name.
So where does the “cornbread” come in? Well, in addition to serving up moist, yummy slices of it (including a gluten-free version), the duo finally settled on Cornbread Café after deliberating on several different business names. Hammond says, “I liked the simplicity of the word cornbread. We had thrown around a bunch of names, but once I said “cornbread,” that was it.”
After closing their food cart on December 31, 2010, Hammond and Walters took the time to build their wholesale business, sharing a commissary kitchen with a local catering company in downtown Eugene. They searched around the area for a new home, finding one at the old Deb’s Diner at the corner of Polk and Seventh Streets, and where they still serve up their iconic cornbread.
They hosted a successful grand opening early in the summer of 2011, and have continued to grow claiming small victories here and there. Their attention to detail, hand-crafted menu, and welcoming atmosphere (alongside items like their popular fried tofu “Eugenewich”) has been creating a buzz and attracting vegans and meat eaters alike.
Their charming little diner’s cozy retro atmosphere, vegan comfort food philosophy, and of course the food, are accessible seven days a week. “The food cart was a great learning experience in the early years. It was nice to go from little too big,” said Hammond.
Cornbread Cafe leads on environmental justice.
The Cafe’s sustainability program has evolved in the intervening years. Waste reduction is at the top of the list. They compost food scraps, use biodegradable takeout kits, and their used oil is donated for biofuel. Takeout customers are encouraged to bring reusable bags for their orders and reusable containers for leftovers. Delivery is available through Cascadian Courier Collective – a bike delivery service.
Location: 1290 W. 7th Ave Eugene, OR 97402
Hours: Open daily 11am – 8pm
Top photo: Jackie Varriano
Editor’s note 2022: Originally published in 2011. Article updated with content and photos.
Jackie Varriano is a Seattle area-based freelance food and lifestyle writer. Her work has been seen on Zagat.com, The Seattle Times, Coastal Living, Lucky Peach, The Oregonian, The Boston Globe, Eating Well and more.
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