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Restaurateur Interview Series: Joy from Candle Cafe

Candle Cafe
1307 3rd Ave (at 75th St, Upper East Side)
New York City, New York 10021

Candle 79
154 East 79th St (at Lexington, Upper East Side)
New York City, New York 10021

Owner: Joy Pierson

Is this your first restaurant? Candle Cafe is our first restaurant and Candle 79 is our second.

What made you decide to open a vegetarian/vegan restaurant?
My passion to heal people with food. I was a practicing nutritionist and I met Bart when he was owner and operator of a juice bar/cafe on the Upper East Side and he introduced me to the power of plant based foods. He served me a sandwich and my life was never the same. We became partners and opened up the Candle Cafe in 1993.

What has been your greatest professional success and your biggest setback?
My greatest professional success is the work we’ve been able to do feeding children with cancer and helping the movement for more holistic and integrative treatments. We have worked with Columbia Presbyterian and other organizations to bring plant based nutrition to those most in need.

The biggest setback has been the difficulty with growth and the challenges of opening a new location.

What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
Our good food plate, that allows me to put together whatever grouping of sides that I’m in the mood for with any two dressings or sauces. Today I had sautéed greens, adzuki beans, quinoa vegetable pilaf, and a sweet potato with creamy wasabi and tahini dressings. I couldn’t be happier.

What’s the most popular appetizer on the menu? Seitan chimichurri has been everyone’s favorite for as long I can remember. I try to get everyone to try it, because once they do they are hooked for life.

Most popular entrée? Seitan Picatta with Lemon Caper sauce. It has been on our menus since we opened and has wowed vegans and meat eaters alike. It also became the first frozen entrée to make it to the major retail markets.

Most popular dessert? Chocolate Mousse Pie. It is decadent, gluten free, and you would never know it’s vegan.

How often do you change your menu items? Do you have daily or weekly specials? How do you choose those specials?
We offer four to five daily specials along with three soups per day. We also offer a selection of sides that change on a daily basis. The choice of specials is left to our talented chefs that have a huge repertoire to choose from and are constantly coming up with new items to offer. The season is the biggest determining factor in what they choose as we want to use the freshest most local ingredients that we can get our hands on.

Do you have gluten-free, soy-free, and sugar-free options on your menu? What are a few of those?
We have a dedicated Gluten-Free menu that has about 15 options on it. We have a few desserts that are sweetened with agave and/or maple syrup. And we have a few soy free options but they are not noted on our menu.

Gluten-free – Paradise Casserole, Beet Salad, Ginger Miso Stir-Fry, Chocolate Mousse Pie, Rice Pudding

Soy-free – Good Food Plate

Sugar-free – Chocolate Mousse Pie and Oatmeal Choc Chip cookies are sweetened with Maple Syrup

Do you use eco-friendly packaging? What else do you do to reduce your environmental impact?
We use Eco friendly packaging when possible. Our togo flatware and cups are compostable as are some of our food packing containers. We also invest in alternative energy sources, embrace organic and local produce whenever possible, and us our “green” cleaners. We were the first certified Green restaurant in NYC by the Green Restaurant Association

If you could eat at any vegan restaurant in the world where would it be?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say our restaurants. Whenever I’m away it’s all I crave. But if I had to choose somewhere, the owners of Horizons in Philadelphia opened a new restaurant called Vedge and I can’t wait to check it out as they are crazy talented chefs and great people.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to start a vegetarian/vegan restaurant?
It needs to be your mission and your purpose for life. If you are in it for the money there are a lot easier ways to make a buck, but there is no better way than to affect change and the lives of people than by feeding them plant-based delicious food.

Thank you Joy for sharing about your beautiful and delicious cafes with our HappyCow readers! I look forward to checking them out when I come to New York in the Spring! If you are a restaurant owner who would like to be featured in our Restaurateur Interview Series please contact us! 

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