Grass Valley’s Cafe Tara offering raw, vegan fare
Nevada County native Justina Dunne admits that although cooking is part of her heritage — her family at one time owned both Peterson’s Corner and Northridge Restaurant — she had not considered food as a career.
But it was during a stint at military school — before she decided against a career in the Air Force — that she found her current path, one that led her to open a cafe focusing on raw and vegan treats in downtown Grass Valley. The long, narrow space most recently was occupied by Brew Bakers, which relocated to a bigger space on East Main Street.
Dunne said she always enjoyed baking and retains fond memories of making chocolate chip cookies after she got home from school. Then, while attending Virginia Military Institute, she got in the habit of baking for her fellow barracks “rats.”
“That’s what was making me happy, making everyone else happy,” she said. “It’s such a fulfilling thing.”
Dunne spent some time working in regional kitchens, but really wanted to strike out on her own.
She spotted the “For Rent” sign on the Mill Street space and took the plunge even though, she noted, there weren’t many restaurants open in the downtown core at the time.
“I had never done raw or vegan food before,” she said. “It’s a real challenge. I had to go all in.”
Dunne researched other vegan bakeries, many of which did not succeed, and worked to figure out how to make vegan treats that were appealing to everyone.
“I would research the ingredients and figure out what I needed to alter,” she said, adding, “I’ve had my fair share of flops.”
The cafe has a mix of raw and vegan offerings, including sandwiches and “bliss bowls,” salads and sweet potato toast. Treats include raw versions of a Reese’s peanut butter cup and kale chips that are dried in a dehydrator.
Dunne knew who she wanted Brooke Preston to serve as chef at Cafe Tara.
“I actually worked for her for a year, at The Green Boheme in Roseville,” she said.
“I feel like people will travel for this kind of food,” Dunne said.
And she has been proven right, she said, adding, “I had someone come down here from Tahoe today.”
Dunne is looking to build relationships with local farmers, in part so she can hone in on featuring seasonal produce.
“I’m looking to change the menu in October,” she explained, phasing out summer vegetables like tomatoes and phasing in fall items like soups.
Dunne opened Cafe Tara a little more than a month ago with little fanfare, a calculated decision so she could iron out any kinks.
“I wanted a lot of feedback as to what could be better,” she explained. “The whole point of opening a business it to make people happy.”
So far, the cafe is really taking off, Dunne said, adding that being open only four days a week seems to add to diners’ anticipation.
Having three days off is essential to recalibrating the menu, and also allows Dunne and Preston to prep their meal plans.
The food plans, which include probiotic beverages, green juices and smoothies, a main meal and a snack, currently constitute the bulk of their business and is a big time commitment, Dunne said.
“It’s the healthiest thing you can do, in my opinion,” she said. “I’m really happy to support that.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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