Featured Business Series: Pingala Cafe
In the spirit of spring, Redstone has decided to start fresh features of some of our tenants. These business owners have contributed to the culture and economy of Vermont in significant ways, and we are glad to be able to provide them with the space they need to do their work.
I sat down with Trevor Sullivan last week to see what he’s done with the space he leased through Redstone at the Chace Mill. We sat out on the deck in front of Pingala Cafe which, at three in the afternoon, was still busy with people eating late lunches or just grabbing a drink and relaxing in the sun. From our seats in the corner of the deck, I could see and hear the Winooski River rushing by.
SW: How did you get the idea to start Pingala?
Sullivan: My wife, Julia, teaches at Laughing River yoga, and I’d been going to classes with her, and going to her classes for the last couple years, so I’d been walking past this space and seeing it as this empty construction zone and thinking to myself, that would be a cool place for a café. So I emailed Redstone, and said ‘I’ve got an idea for the space and if you’re interested I would love to chat’, and then a couple days later Larry [Williams] and I were in the office talking and I kinda gave him a really quick pitch of what I wanted to do, but not having any definite business plan, but then they said ‘come back at us with a business plan’ and they basically gave me the opportunity saying if this is something you want to do we’re into it. I spent a lot of time really thinking things out, thinking about the space I wanted to create.
SW: You talk about the energy of the cafe. What would you say that energy is?
Sullivan: For me it’s like this super-awesome-dream-come-true-how-is-this-really-happening? When Corin from Seven Days wrote about it, she said it was colorful and bubbly. We’re not going for classy and sexy. We just want to be casual. One of the cool things that made everything come full circle on this space was working on the mural with Tara Gaureau. I stopped her at City Market, she was doing that big beautiful mural there, and I said “if you’re interested, I’ve got a project for you”. We came up with this loosey goosey idea of what it would be. She’s just great to work with. Everyone stops in to check it out. It’s a big piece of what defines the space. It really speaks to who we are.
SW: How so?
Sullivan: I didn’t litter our menu with organic this and organic that, or tomatoes from here and carrots from there. We’re in Vermont and people expect that now, as they should. We [Vermonters] are at the forefront of what it means to harvest and grow food sustainably for local consumption. The mural is a suggestion of what we do, and how we love where we are.
SW: So why vegan food?
Sullivan: I haven’t been vegan forever, and I haven’t been working with food forever. When I did become vegan, it totally was a game changer. I just became so much more psyched about food and wanted to figure out how to recreate dishes that I loved without really going down the road of mock-fake stuff. The jackfruit is wild, how it behaves like meat. It’s used for our BBQ jack sandwich. We braise it for 24 hours and then let it soak in our BBQ sauce. It gets super tender and just shreds apart. The structural integrity of jackfruit is so similar to meat.
SW: So what about customers who aren’t vegan?
Sullivan: We try to make food on our menu that is for everybody. We’re trying not to make people shy about the vegan thing. We have one of the hairstylists from Bello, next door, come in every other day for food. She’s not vegan or vegetarian, but she loves it. I think that a good 60 to 70 percent of the people in here aren’t vegan or vegetarian. It’s a cool atmosphere, the view couldn’t get any better, and the sunsets are incredible.
Sullivan now runs one of the only strictly vegan cafes in the Burlington area. Not only has it become a destination cafe for vegans across the state, but it offers food and atmosphere accessible and enjoyable to individuals of all walks of life.
One of the things we love about Sullivan? He sees past the walls of his cafe. Quite literally, as the views of the Winooski River dominate the majority of the scenery, but also in respects to the vitality and future of the area. He hopes to raise enough money to install a sculpture on the Winooski River that embodies much of what Pingala stands for: A woman composed entirely of cutlery in dancer pose. With only a day and a half left, Sullivan is still looking to raise another thousand dollars for this incredible installation piece. It would be a great addition to a unique and culturally rich area of Vermont. For more information, and to donate, check out his kickstarter campaign.
If you haven’t already, head over to Pingala Cafe at the Chace Mill in Burlington. The Chace Mill is easy to get to by bike or on foot, just a short walk from both Burlington and downtown Winooski. Make the trip. Whatever your diet, you’re sure to find something delicious on the menu.