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Interview with the Founders of New York's Candle Cafe

December 5, 2016 -

Bart Potenza founded the Candle restaurants, the premier vegan restaurants in NYC. Joy Pierson, his partner, is a nutritionist, educator, and cookbook author, with a passion for healing through delicious, plant-based food.

In 1988, Joy met Bart at the Healthy Candle, a health food store and juice bar, where they created menus tailored to the needs of Joy's clients, and to the Healthy Candle's customers.

What was the inspiration for Candle Cafe?

Our desire to share health and well-being with others. We witnessed the health benefits from eating a plant-based diet in our own lives and we couldn't wait to spread the word. On Friday the 13th, 1993, Bart played our birthdays in the NY Take Five lottery, and won $53,000! Providence provided and we knew it was meant to be.

What changes have you seen since 1994 when you opened Candle Cafe?

The major buzz word at the time was "organic." People were looking for a bowl of delicious soup, fresh greens, organic juices, and farm-to-table cuisine. Bart evoked a healthy addiction. As Bart says "the trend is our friend."

How many Candle restaurants are there?

There are three Candles, all serving delicious organic, soulful comfort food: Candle Cafe (recently remodeled and better than ever), Candle 79, the cafe's upscale sister restaurant, and our newest addition, Candle Cafe West, which is the only one of the 3 that is kosher, with an expansive eco bar holstering a hip scene. All Candles have wine, beer, and spirits.

What is Candle's cooking philosophy?

Serving fresh from farm to table organic, plant-based fare with real food, real love, and real ingredients. We address a wide range of dietary needs, including gluten-free, and all allergy concerns. We strive to make our food deliciously memorable and appealing to herbivores, carnivores, and the like.

Do you only cater to vegans?

Ironically, 80% of our customers are not vegan; they come to us for delicious comfort food without the guilt.

What are some of Candle's signature dishes, and what are your favorites?

Seitan Piccata, Seitan Chimichurri Skewers, Crispy Cajun Seitan Sandwich, innovative burgers, some with our wildly popular Polenta Fries or Truffled Potato Fries, Grilled Kale Salad with Spelt Berries, Crispy Lemon Brussels Sprouts with Almond Cream, house made Ice Creams, and our decadent Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, just to name a few.

With whom do you partner to source organic food for Candle restaurants?

We partner with local, organic farmers who help us select the highest quality ingredients. We also value input from our dedicated, loyal staff, and from our devoted, supportive patrons.

Who is your culinary team, and how does the creative process work?

Our passionate, creative chefs, Jorge Pineda and Angel Ramos, always discover innovative ways to entice our diners' palates. We are also continuously inspired by the seasonal harvest.

What do you want your customers to experience when they dine at Candle?

A plant-based menu that will comfort, intoxicate, and embrace ideals and good food. We want to project the importance of saving and taking care of our planet. It is a pleasure to be feeding a fourth generation of customers and hopefully a whole new generation to come!

Are Candle restaurants involved in community outreach?

For the past eleven years, Joy has served as Board Chair for the Coalition for Healthy School Food in NYC, which introduces plant-based foods and nutrition education to schools nationwide. The Coalition has been instrumental in helping two public schools in the country become vegetarian. Our passion also extends to environmental and sustainable community efforts, as well as to animal activism.

Do you incorporate any of Candle's dishes in your home cooking?

Yes, many and often! We love to cook from our 3 cookbooks (Candle Cafe, Candle 79 Cookbook, and Vegan Holiday Cooking), and to incorporate produce from our own organic garden.

Can you share a favorite recipe from your cookbooks?

We're delighted to share a holiday favorite: our yummy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Apple Cider Reduction, from Vegan Holiday Cooking. Enjoy!


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