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If you’re driving down Cabot Street in downtown Beverly, it’s hard to miss Organic Garden Café’s huge, colorful, Tuscan-esque mural on the side of its brick building. The café has been serving up healthy raw and vegetarian cuisine to Beverly since 1999.

The owner of the café, Robert Reid, greeted me with a fresh wheatgrass shot. He told me it was “alkalizing,” it had “enzymes that help with digestion,” and it was packed with vitamins and minerals. It smelled like grass. It tasted like grass.

Reid greeted some regular customers as we sat down at a table. The walls were painted a cheery golden yellow, plants hung from the ceiling, and rock music played softly in the background. This place really was an oasis. As Reid was describing to me his ambition that drove him to open up a business of his own, he recounted his love of music and his desire to be a rock star when he was growing up. I became aware of the Red Hot Chili Peppers coming from the speakers.

In the ’90s, when Reid had graduated from Bentley and was working as a tax manager, his life was turned upside down when his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with cancer. Given only two months to live, she decided she had nothing to lose by turning to holistic medicine as an alternative cancer treatment. “I remember that first afternoon, spending hours in Barnes & Noble with my brother and walking out with a few books on holistic medicine,” recounts Reid.

Between New Life Health Center in Jamaica Plain and book after book on alternative cancer treatment, Elizabeth lived for two years longer than the doctors first predicted, and Reid found his calling as a health and nutrition coach. After his sister-in-law passed, he “couldn’t go back to being an accountant” with everything he knew about this completely new lifestyle. “That whole journey exposed me to so much,” he says.

On the day of the winter solstice of 1999, Organic Garden Café opened its doors to the public and has been serving Beverly ever since. “I wanted to serve super healthy but delicious, fun food,” says Reid. What he considers to be the most accurate description of the café is as follows: “The Organic Garden is an organic, sustainably-minded café with a fusion menu that features a hybrid of gourmet raw, cooked vegetarian, and macrobiotic cuisine.”

Let’s break that down.

What exactly is raw food? Reid says that it’s “live or living food.” It doesn’t suffer sustained high heat, so almost all the nutrients remain intact. Raw food isn’t homogenized, hydrogenated, or pasteurized. It’s minimally processed. While it isn’t necessarily plant based (it can include lean, consciously raised animal products), for the Organic Garden, it is. Raw implies that the food hasn’t been heated, which destroys some of the nutrients, like most of the vitamins and enzymes.

So, what exactly are enzymes? Enzymes are biological catalysts without which life would be pretty unsustainable. They help with bodily functions like building processes and digestion. “If your food has enzymes, you’ll be less sluggish after the meal, your body will be less taxed, and you’ll have more energy in general all day,” says Reid. You can get enzymes by eating a raw, macrobiotic diet.

And what exactly is macrobiotic? A macrobiotic diet consists of whole foods that are in season, is mostly plant based, and is centered on a coastal, temperate climate (like that of New England). Japanese educator George Ohsawa first brought the diet to the United States in the ’30s, and it’s made up primarily of foods such as whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, cooked and raw veggies, legumes, fish, sea vegetables, nuts, and fruits. It’s low in fat and high in fiber.

“We live in New England, where there’s really no need to be living on a 90 percent raw diet,” says Reid. Cooked foods like butternut squash and grains are “grounding and warm,” and making room for certain cooked foods has diversified the café’s menu. When it comes to people who want to embrace a more raw, macrobiotic diet, Reid suggests shooting for a 50/50 raw-to-cooked ratio for their daily regimen.

He recommends starting the morning with a big, bountiful fruit salad full of seasonal fruits in the spring and summer, like mangos and peaches, rather than just the basic apple and banana staples. Add a handful of nuts and seeds, and you have a breakfast that’ll give you plenty of energy but will burn right up so you aren’t weighed down. For lunch, try a hearty salad filled with your favorite vegetables and some sort of “something special” to keep you filled up: anything from avocado to falafel balls. If you have a snack and a dinner that are both cooked, says Reid, “you’re still going to come out to that 50/50 ratio.”

Of course, organic eating can get pricey. A tip for frugal food shopping? Look up the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15, in Environmental Working Group’s guides to produce that gets updated every year. The Dirty Dozen are the produce items most heavily sprayed with pesticides, like apples and potatoes, and are recommended to be bought exclusively organic, while the Clean 15 are the least sprayed, like onions and pineapples, and are pretty safe to buy cheap and non-organic.

Another one of Reid’s tips for raw eating began my favorite part of the day: I got to step into the kitchen to whip up a few of his signature smoothies. His basic smoothie template is to use your favorite produce to fill the blender halfway, use greens like kale or spinach to fill it the rest of the way, and then pour in coconut water to around the three-quarter mark. I learned how to make the Green Monkey, a brilliant emerald smoothie made of coconut milk, banana, kale, and wheatgrass, and I was swooning over the Velvet Elvis in Memphis for its almond butter, banana, and sweet date.

“What excites me the most about this café is that over the years we’ve seen our customer base grow so much. At first it was more vegan and raw foodists who we were targeting, but now our audience—I don’t even think it’s half vegetarian.” Reid says that people’s thinking becomes more healthy-minded every day, and that Organic Garden Café’s concept is no longer just a niche. “I’m not trying to preach or to gain clients. It’s a subtle message, what people are learning when they come through the door. Maybe they get inspired to eat healthier, or they meet a customer who does yoga so then they start doing yoga. I want to know that my concept appeals to everyone, and it seems like it does.” 

Organic Garden Café

294 Cabot St.