Bristol restaurateur J.R. Rusgrove has lost nearly 30 pounds in less than two months, and he has his new eatery, and his daughter’s culinary creativity with vegan dishes, to thank.
In May, Rusgrove and his wife, Leanne, opened their third city restaurant, Pure Foods Inc., on North Main Street. The healthy cafe, with salads, sandwiches, wraps, bowls and smoothies, is a departure from their first two eateries: eggs, bacon and pancakes at their breakfast and lunch spot Parkside Cafe, and burgers and wings at their pub, Main Street Pint & Plate.
“We’ve even changed the way we’re eating. We were very much meat and potatoes people, bacon, French fries, whatever,” said Leanne Rusgrove. J.R., inspired by his daughter Kaleigh Rusgrove Berry’s innovative vegan substitutes, has stuck to an all plant-based diet for several weeks.
“If you would have told me on the day we opened that within a certain amount of time that I was going to become a vegetarian…I would have bet all the money in the world, you’d never seen it happen,” said J.R. “And Kaleigh was the reason why, because she kept saying, ‘It’s not that hard to do, Dad.’”
Rusgrove Berry and the staff have cooked up inventive specials that have attracted vegans and non-vegans alike. A southern fried “chicken” sandwich was a hit on social media this summer, with a seasoned fried seitan patty, vegan cole slaw, pickles, lettuce, tomato and spicy agave standing in for hot honey. Guests came from an hour away to try it.
In the spirit of the largely canceled fall fair season, the Pure Foods team also created a “pulled pork sundae” similar to a favorite Big E snack: layering vegan cornbread, baked beans, mashed potatoes, a vegan pork substitute made from boiled hibiscus flowers, and cole slaw in the style of a parfait. Rusgrove Berry is also exploring a vegan version of fish and chips, subbing banana blossoms for the fish.
“It’s funny how quickly it grows on you, if you just allow yourself to open up a little bit and just embrace what you’re eating, and not be a skeptic,” J.R. said.
The Rusgroves said some of their customers were initially doubtful that a restaurant like theirs would succeed in Bristol, but they thought just the opposite — that people who lived nearby would enjoy having the healthy option so close.
“Many people were apprehensive thinking we were in the wrong location, because this is more West Hartford-esque,” J.R. said. “But how many people are in this town or surrounding communities that just hate driving all the way to West Hartford, or to Cromwell or Wallingford, wherever they’re going now? Wouldn’t it be nice to just have this in your own backyard?”
In fact, the Rusgroves were underprepared for their first week, they said. When they opened Pure Foods on May 18, they served more than 380 customers that day, with a line trailing down the sidewalk.
Part of its appeal is the wide-reaching menu, J.R. said, with something for everyone. While there’s an abundance of vegetarian and vegan items, omnivores can also enjoy proteins like grilled chicken, turkey bacon and seafood. But many items are universal favorites, including acai and pitaya bowls with toppings like granola and cacao nibs; avocado toast and salads packed with fresh vegetables.
Smoothies and power shakes are $7 to $10. Breakfast items, including oats, eggs and a yogurt parfait, are $2 to $7. Bowls are $8 to $11. Salads are $10 to $14. Wraps and sandwiches, served with house-cut white truffle sea salt potato chips, are $9 to $12.
Manager Kaitlyn Rondeau, who has a degree in health science and nutrition, calculates the nutritional value of each menu item, which guests appreciate. The team adjusts recipes if they need more balance, recently revamping a smoothie’s amount of almond butter to decrease calories.
“People are very interested to know what’s going into their bodies, especially when they’re going out to eat, things that are being prepared for them,” Rondeau said.
As fall continues, Pure Foods will start to offer more warm salads and hearty stews,, and the team is trying to figure out potential delivery options. The restaurant has not yet opened for indoor seating, instead making use of takeout windows, a side patio and expanded outdoor dining in converted parking spaces.
While the cold months might be challenging, the Rusgrove family is happy with the Pure Foods feedback in its first months. Rusgrove Berry said she’s heard from many customers, including Parkside regulars, who are glad to have the healthy option in town.
“That was really surprising to me, is just how many people were kind of just waiting for something like this to open,” she said.
Pure Foods is at 457 North Main St. in Bristol. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 860-585-5150, purefoodsbristol.com.
Leeanne Griffin can be reached at [email protected]
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