Vermont is a quirky little state when it comes to food. Depending on what you know about the dairy industry that props up much of the economy, and the “granola” stereotype that describes the largely eco-conscious, left-leaning demographic, you may wonder whether Vermont welcomes or limits its vegan options. Burlington, like many other states’ biggest cities, is a plant-based paradise with fully vegan joints or meat-free alternatives in nearly every restaurant. But when you leave the little city for farmland and mountains, the expectation to stumble across fully vegan fare in the rural expanse and passing small towns fades.
Just when you think you’ve seen your hundredth cow, enter “Nourish,” an Organic, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Deli and Bakery. Nestled on a side street in the small town of St. Albans, Vermont (35 minutes north of Burlington), owners Ric and Dara Lavallee are changing what it means to travel for vegan food by bringing small-town community and undeniably delicious food together in a location where plant-based is not the norm. “I thought there were 3 vegans in all of St. Albans!” Dara explained, laughing, when I sat down to interview her and Ric about their vision and values for the restaurant that opened in March 2021.
Owners of Nourish, Ric and Dara (with a beautiful custom cake Dara had just finished!)
For every existing vegan that Nourish’s mouthwatering menu brings in from near or far, there is another veg-curious customer that comes through the door and leaves speechless, with a new perspective on food. The couple landed on labeling the deli as “plant-based” rather than “vegan” so as not to alienate anyone. And after just a moment of standing in the cozy storefront, scanning the loaded bakery and deli cases filled with fireball cookies and tuna-esque salad sandwiches, it’s impossible not to feel at home, regardless of your dietary preferences. Hearing Ric and Dara’s passion for health, animal advocacy, and quality ingredients is enough to push any skeptic towards veganism. Oh…and did I mention artisan vegan cheese? More on that later.
Nourish’s core values come from Dara’s self-described love for animals and Ric’s passion for food as medicine after working for fifteen years as an emergency paramedic and seeing the importance of diet on heart and overall health. After switching to a plant-based lifestyle, he saw firsthand a clear transformation. “It’s incredible how much energy I have,” he told me, after switching over. For him, Nourish is an opportunity to help others nourish their bodies and discover that eliminating animal products can be life-changing and equally (if not more) delicious.
Meanwhile, Dara’s passion for animal advocacy spurred the “Nourish the Animals Inc.” campaign, a separate entity from the deli itself that raises funds for animal sanctuaries in Vermont and across North America hard hit during the pandemic or by environmental displacement. In addition to any direct donations to the campaign, all gratuity on food purchases and every two dollars from Nourish logo wear purchases are donated as well. “We should be stewards of animals, not butchers,” Ric explained. Not only does Nourish serve up a cruelty-free menu, but they take animal activism a step further by embedding it into their business model.
Nourish is undoubtedly paving the way for plant-based food by providing the small St. Albans community with a chance to learn about health, animal advocacy, and food in an accessible way. The increasing number of vegan options in large cities is fantastic, but how can a wider range of people experience and appreciate vegan food when they are highly concentrated into urban areas? It requires innovation, creativity, and the utmost culinary skill to introduce a plant-based restaurant into a location where the lifestyle is less popular, and Ric and Dara have surely succeeded. Visiting Nourish is as much of a culinary experience as it is educational and emotional. Each customer walks away with a new understanding of a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, and a feeling of acceptance and love within the space.
Nourish’s Housemade Cashew Chevre (left) and Bleu cheese (right). Photo courtesy of Nourish.
But if you’re not yet convinced of the one-of-a-kind nature of Nourish, all that’s left to do is try one of their homemade artisan cashew-based cheeses (or any of their food for that matter!). The Brie, Chevre, and Bleu, aged for four weeks, are unlike any vegan cheese you have ever tasted. One of Dara’s favorite parts of operating the storefront is seeing the expression on customers’ faces after their first bite- they are truly THAT world-altering! So save your trip to the Vermont dairy farm for another day and head over to St. Albans to experience the powerful intersection of plant-based food, advocacy, and community. You won’t be disappointed.