Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
Jenny Rusnell doesn’t want to feed you the way most people would.
Many restaurants and places that put food into packages add fat and sugar to make sure that you’ll like it.
Rusnell wants it to taste good, but she also wants to make sure your body likes it and knows what to do with it.
That’s how Elkhart has The Moringa Tree Organic Cafe.
She opened April 1, expecting to have a place to teach people about natural foods and body care. But the cafe has been busier than she expected and she’s had less time to teach. “I thought I’d be more of a nutrition place than a restaurant,” she said.
But after she opened at 300 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart, where Heavenly Brew Cafe was before, she saw a lot of people quickly become regular customers, drinking smoothies and juice.
The menu has gluten-free, raw and vegan options. She’s making food from scratch and even making her own sourdough bread and pizza crust.
Snacks, salads, sandwiches and soup are put together with health and flavor in mind. She said she’s a foodie and wants what she serves to be healthy and taste good.
Rusnell has gone from being the bartender specializing in shots at Harrison Landing to having an organic cafe. After her brother died of leukemia and she had a car accident, she began studying nutrition and medical massage. And she changed what she ate and drank.
“I looked at my life and I changed everything I was doing,” she said. She gave up sugar, alcohol and processed foods about two years ago. Detoxing wasn’t fun, particularly while she still worked as a bartender at The Vine, but her health changed. “I’ve never felt the way I do now,” she said. She gets energy from her food. And I’ll just say that she sort of glows and exudes energy.
“It’s so nice to eat and feel good,” she said.
She knows how to eat clean and teach others to do so. But soap is clean as well and natural food not made with care can taste like it.
Rusnell knows how to balance flavor and health well.
A pizza with chicken, black beans, real (not soy) cheese and salsa, plus that sourdough crust, had a lot of flavor. Her grilled cheese served on bread made with sprouted flour with raw cheddar, pesto and moringa powder also has a lot of good flavor.
The bean burger she’s making and serving is a good one. It’s vegan and served with a variety of toppings ($10).
If you go up the street to McDonald’s, an employee couldn’t tell you what’s in what you’re eating. At Moringa, that’s much of the point. She’s washing organic produce with filtered water. There isn’t a microwave in the place.
The appliances that get a workout are the juicer and blender.
Juicing — turning fruits and vegetables into a drink, not taking performance-enhancing drugs — is a national trend and turning into big business, according to a New York Times story.
At Moringa Tree, Rusnell and her employees will churn out combinations of carrot, kale and celery juice, using fruit to add more sweetness.
The list of smoothies focuses on “superfood,” which means they have powders and supplements as well as using organic ingredients and raw honey or sugar. The Funky Monkey is a nice mix of banana, avocado, peanut butter, chocolate almond milk, moringa powder, maca powder, protein powder and raw sugar.
Moringa is powder from a plant called “the tree of life” in many cultures, according to Rusnell. It’s full of nutrients and Rusnell touts it for balancing her blood sugar and other health fixes. So far, customers are listening. In addition to what she’s using in drinks or food, she sold 100 pounds of it in her first month of business.
Food isn’t cheap at Moringa Tree Cafe, but you know what you’re getting. It’s organic and Rusnell will be happy to tell you not only how it was made, but why it was made that way.
That comes with a cost. I don’t know whether there are enough people to sustain a business that is offering $7 smoothies and $8 loaves of sourdough bread. But I hope so.
We want to eat healthy and try, but someone like Rusnell can help us learn how to do it better. No matter how often a customer shows up, they’re unlikely to get every meal from The Moringa Tree Cafe. If she shows them how to eat better, they’re likelier to come more often and work on changes at home, too.
Other businesses who are selling similar food, such as Maple City Market in Goshen and Nature’s Alternatives on the east side of Elkhart, are selling a broader array of items in addition to prepared food. I’m not sure whether Rusnell will have to do that or not.
She plans on adding punch cards to reward regular customers and is adding more grab-and-go items, as well dinner items to go. She may add some smoothies that don’t use as much of the superfood items and thus, would be less expensive.
She wants to get out and do more education events in the community or at local businesses. But it’s difficult to do that when the line at your cafe is longer than you expected.
At Harrison Landing and The Vine, customers went to see Rusnell. They’ll likely do it at The Moringa Tree Cafe, too. That likely means they’ll eat healthier. We could also use that.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via the Dining A La King Facebook page.
If You Go
What: The Moringa Tree Cafe
Where: 300 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart
Fare: Organic health food
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 to 4 Saturday
Details: Handicapped accessible, catering and carry-out available, gift certificates available, credit cards accepted.