Serving a Healthy Lifestyle

By Beacon Staff

When Clair Beaver opened her new natural food café in downtown Kalispell last spring, one of the biggest surprises became all the places where customers flocked from.

Families from Canada, New Hampshire and beyond streamed into the small restaurant tucked in the back of Sassafras’ boutique storefront on Main Street. They were met with fresh, organic alternatives to the standard American menu items, such as all-vegetable sandwiches and salads, a veggie burger and “super green” smoothies.

In less than a year, the vegan café, called A Fresh Start, has sprouted into a popular source of flavor and education for the rising clientele of healthy eaters. Beyond the café and catering business, Beaver offers weekly and monthly classes focused on improving wellness through a nutritious diet.

“People have been so grateful that there’s an option to eat healthy,” she said. “We’re thinking about putting a map of the world to show where customers have come from.”

The organic food movement has proliferated on all fronts in recent years. Overall sales of organic items in the U.S. reached $29.22 billion in 2011, a 9 percent increase over the previous year. Estimates show a sustained growth into the future as more people change their conventional eating habits.

That’s what Beaver did when she was 15 years old. She eliminated pork, beef and chicken from her diet and then removed caffeine, sodas and refined sugars. She began researching everything she could find about foods that are healthy and those that aren’t.

In recent years she attended a training workshop in North Carolina with Hallelujah Acres, a Christian health and wellness organization.

“For me it’s always been the connection between what we eat and how it affects our health,” she said. “If we want to live long, healthy, vibrant lives, then how do we do that? People can absolutely get their lives back and their health back eating this lifestyle.”

She and her husband, Paul, wanted to share this message with their community, and they decided the best way would be through a direct source like a café. They opened last May.

“We love being downtown. We live downtown and have lived in the downtown area for 18 years,” she said.

Besides the common challenges of opening a new small business, Beaver faced a few specialized hurdles with her new restaurant.

The benefits of eating organic have been met with skepticism from some. Stanford University released a study in September comparing organic products and conventional foods. The research found there were no obvious nutritional advantages to eating fruits and vegetables labeled organic. However, the study did show conventional items contained more pesticide residue, though the levels were within the allowable safety limits.

Bill Kowalewski dines at A Fresh Start Natural Food Cafe in the back of Sassafras in Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Beaver believes firmly in the importance of eating all-natural, pesticide-free products. She can cite recent studies that emphasize the harmful impacts that could arise from genetically modified foods. She also references rising obesity rates and the prevalence of diseases like diabetes in America.

“We’re seeing that we’re the sickest nation in the world and we spend the most on medical treatment,” she said. “There’s a disconnect between what we eat and how it impacts us. People need to realize what that disconnect is.”
Her classes emphasize this disconnect and offer simple strategies for incorporating healthier foods into daily routines.

“I encourage people to know the source of their food the best they possibly can,” she said. “If you can buy from the local farmers’ market, local health food store or local grocery story, I encourage people to buy organic and support organic farmers and buy locally and grow locally.”

Two stigmas that Beaver is also trying to break are that healthy food is too expensive and not flavorful.

Her café certainly counters that notion.
The Fresh Start menu features a long list of lunch items that follow the owners’ high standards of quality ingredients and flavor.

“I want people to realize that eating healthy can really be delicious,” she said, adding, “We’re also trying to keep it very affordable.”

Her goal is to someday offer cooking classes, too. It would be another way for her to share the benefits of a fresh start.

“This is my passion,” she said, “and I want to share that message with people.”

A Fresh Start is located in Sassafras at 120 Main St. in Kalispell. The store’s hours are currently 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 756-3774 or visit the café’s Facebook page.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.