Marlene and Cassie Tolman have created their dream restaurant.
The mother-daughter team had talked about opening a health-conscious, vegetarian and vegan-friendly place for several years. That dream finally became a reality when Pomegranate opened in the Ahwatukee Foothills in early February.
And it’s been an instant hit. The small, colorful restaurant tucked into a shopping center only seats around 40 people inside, but they’re getting an average of 40 to 75 customers a day for their breakfast and lunch hours.
That’s even though Pomegranate hasn’t advertised. Instead, people find it by word of mouth, Cassie Tolman said.
“We just quietly opened our doors in February,” she said. “I think the right people have just found their way here.”
Cassie is head chef for the restaurant. She was trained at the vegetarian Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City and previously started a vegetarian lunch program at Desert Garden Montessori.
But even before that formal training, she has always loved to help in the kitchen and experiment with her own recipes, her mother Marlene Tolman said.
Marlene got her own professional training in the kitchen at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, and currently makes most of the pastries. The majority of her background, though, has been in the non-profit sector.
The two first-time restaurateurs had talked about opening a café for about five years, even having some conversations with investors, but the time was never right. Finally, they agreed a year ago that it was time to put their energy into Pomegranate. They ended up self-financing the restaurant, along with Cassie’s grandmother.
While there are pockets of vegetarian restaurants in Tempe and downtown Phoenix – they actually considered a Tempe location before settling back on the Ahwatukee Foothills spot – the Tolmans believed there was a need for a place like this in Ahwatukee.
“We have some lovely ethnic restaurants with vegetarian options, but nothing quite like this,” Cassie said.
And beyond vegetarian and vegan options, there was a special thought given to health-conscious residents.
“If you live here awhile, you realize there’s a more health-conscious mindset than other parts of the East Valley,” Marlene said. “You notice a lot of families out running, walking, biking on a regular basis.”
They also found what they thought was the perfect location. Their small restaurant is two doors down from a Trader Joe’s, which they figured would have a clientele that would like a vegetarian restaurant, and isn’t too far from Desert Garden Montessori School, where Cassie had a bit of a following from parents.
A yoga studio has since opened in the same shopping center.
Their clientele has been more than vegetarians and vegans. A lot of people have come in because they like the fresh, local produce, or because they like the low-gluten and gluten-free pastries, Marlene said.
“It’s more about delicious food that is full of nutrients. For us, that happens to be vegetarian and vegan,” Marlene said.
Indeed, the menu is quite unique. Many items, or at least ingredients for different items, are seasonal based on what is locally available. A pastry case is full of vegan pastries and desserts, frequently including cheesecake and doughnut holes. Coffee can be spiced up with homemade, vegan syrups and your choice of coconut, soy or regular milk at no extra charge. Some salads feature a living dressing, which Cassie described as fresh ingredients that haven’t been cooked.
Even though they’re new, the Tolmans are already trying to expand their offerings. They’ve had a live music night and story time and offer toe readings every Wednesday. They’d also like to expand their hours – Pomegranate is only open for breakfast and lunch for now, but they would like to be open late enough for people to have a post-work coffee and grab something for dinner.
And even more ambitious, Cassie hopes to expand the seating area by the end of the summer.
Pomegranate is located at 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 28. For current hours and menus, visit their website at www.pomegranatecafe.com.