By Megan Sokol
It’s slow around dinner time. A small family eats fresh pasta. A group of young friends enjoy their food, one sporting an “I’m a cow hugger” T-shirt. Two customers rest after a walk around downtown, munching on salad.
Then there’s me, admiring the red paint and the artwork hanging on the walls. We’re all customers for the dinner rush at The Wild Oat Bakery and Café, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush all.
A crystal holds down receipts next to the cash register, while Wild Oat owner Crystal Davis maintains the restaurant. A man in the kitchen is wearing a beanie rather than a hairnet. Ingredients include vegan cheese and kale. This looks like another typical Bellingham restaurant, but there is not a single non-vegetarian or non-vegan meal in sight.
“It wasn’t just about vegans to gather and eat,” Davis said. “It was also about putting a really good product out there that’s really flavorful and tasty, so that people who are not necessarily vegan and might have the idea of ‘oh, I can’t eat vegan because it’s not going to be very good,’ but try it and be surprised, I want people to be surprised by how good it is and say ‘wow! That’s really good.’”
Davis didn’t become a vegan until a couple years ago when she watched documentaries like “Food, Inc.” that made her reject the meat industry.
“I was shocked at what I didn’t know, and once you know you can’t unknow,’” Davis said. “And I always heard this saying where you can be part of the problem or be part of the solution, but you can’t be both.”
It took Davis almost two years to construct her café, and she didn’t start putting her dream into fruition until January 2018. Davis and a couple other employees worked around the clock to open this summer.
New customer Laura Parker said she would periodically peek in the windows with her daughter.
“[I] love how downtown is changing,” Parker said.
Parker’s friend, Linda Strand, said she was delighted with the food. “Their chai tea is to die for,” Strand said, “And Davis should pat herself on the back for the raspberry vinaigrette.”
One specialty meal had its own section of the menu, the “impossible burger.” The burger has every classic burger topping, just without dairy or meat.
I order the “impossible burger” with smoky coconut bacon. The coconut bacon is made with liquid smoke, barbecue spices and soy sauce by Davis.
Because I’m a hot sauce fanatic, I am offered the El Fuego Fresno pepper sauce, a local hot sauce that the store serves alongside name brand sauces like Tapatio and Tabasco.
I also have the choice of sides between tomato and lentil soup, or a house salad with homemade vinaigrette, made specially by Davis. I’m a sucker for tomatoes, so I chose the soup.
Davis makes the burger meat with various plant-based ingredients and tops it with onion, tomato, lettuce and a dairy-free cheese.
Davis reemerges from the kitchen occasionally, ironing out the wrinkles of her new restaurant. The crew carries out trash and recycling through the front door rather than the back.
Oliver Venablerose is an employee at Wild Oat and is one of the three people who helped Davis make her dream a reality.
Venablerose said that It was great to see it come to life, and that they have been building the restaurant since day one, all from scratch.
Davis hopes to one day have enough money from the restaurant to open an animal sanctuary and begin donating to charitable foundations. She also hopes to expand Wild Oat’s culinary expertise and host private dinners.
“We want to support local farmers as much as we can,” Davis said. “We’re doing our best to try to support the local community because they support us.”