Austin Ruesch has been a practicing vegan for 14 years, the last five of which he worked as GM of XO Prime Steaks, ironically enough. As a health-minded eater, Ruesch knows how challenging it can be to find a great meal.
“When you turn vegan it takes over your whole life in a lot of ways,” he explains. “You’re always the odd man out at restaurants.”
Ruesch hopes to make life a little easier – at least as it applies to dining out – for vegans and the people who love them when he opens Helio Terra Vegan Café
(619 Prospect Ave.) this spring. The fast-casual 20-seat café will take the place of Titan Up Café, which was run by the owners of Titan’s Gym located at the entrance of The Residences at 668 Euclid Avenue.
“The reason I’m in the restaurant business is to take care of guests,” he says. “I enjoy making people happy.”
The 1,000-square-foot café will be open from morning to night, servicing residents of the building, gym customers, and anybody else looking for a quick, healthy meal. The restaurant will be 100-percent vegan, with half of the foods being raw and gluten-free.
On the bill of fare are cold-pressed juices, whole-food smoothies (no water and ice), Cleveland Tea Revival teas, and Rising Star coffee. There will be raw and cooked soups, salads, dips, spreads and snacks for starters (think flax and black pepper crackers, dehydrated kale chips). There will be wraps, flatbreads, sandwiches and burgers, the latter of which will be raw, made not with ground beef but rather ground nuts, grains and veggies. The “burger” will be served warm but not hot so as to not run afoul of the Raw Foods Police. Raw cheesecakes and vegan chocolates and sweets will be offered for dessert.
Ruesch will ferment his own cabbage, pickle his own veggies, and sprout his own beans.
“There’s going to be a learning curve here for sure,” he admits. “If you go to LA, foods like this are common knowledge.”
Ruesch says that while working in a similarly sized vegan café in Los Angeles – the “hot bed of the vegan industry” – he observed that almost 60 percent of the clientele was comprised of non-vegan diners who just wanted to eat healthier. As is typical with trends, that approach is trickling its way into the Midwest.
“I think critical mass has finally hit Cleveland,” he says. “When I first became vegan, the only thing you could find, other than whole foods like seeds, fruits and vegetables, were items like soy milk. I’ve watched over the years as all these new products became available at regular places like Trader Joe’s.”
Helio Terra, which means Sun Earth, will join other local vegan cafes like Flaming Ice Cube, Cleveland Vegan and Earth Bistro Cafe to feed the undeniably growing vegan community in Cleveland.
“My idea is to start small,” says Ruesch. “But my goal is to be a community leader in the Cleveland vegan culinary scene going forward. This won’t be the last thing that I open if all goes well.”