AYER — Debra Holloway, a psychotherapist and professional coach from Ayer, once took a creative arts course in which she and others discussed a vexing problem: The fact that the most compassionate and committed people were leaving their own communities.
“There were not enough people who were coming back to their roots and investing in their communities again,” says Holloway, the owner and chef of the Wholesome Café & Book Store at 25 Main St.
After having lived away from her own roots for some time, she made a conscious decision not to be one of those people who pursued their passions elsewhere and never looked back.
The restaurant, which officially opened on June 26, is billed as “a unique local option that offers a deliciously organic, mostly vegetarian and whole food menu.” In its retail space the restaurant offers an eclectic selection of books, organic supplements, handmade teas, sun-dried coffee and herbal remedies.
Holloway says that when she lived and worked in Lowell for a few years as an entry-level psychotherapist, she often ate at Life Alive, a whole-foods restaurant that is also dedicated to fostering community.
“When I left the clinic, I wanted that,” says Holloway. “I just want to go out, relax, and have decent wholesome food at the end of the day.”
Like Life Alive, the Wholesome Café is about more than nutritious, delicious whole foods. Holloway says that she is addressing her new venture “wholeheartedly and with love. It’s really all about loving–I wanted there to be a space in my hometown that I want to eat at. And share the love.”
Holloway has been a vegetarian off and on since her early 20s. Years ago, her family owned The Orient, Inc., a restaurant in Clinton that catered to vegetarians, particularly the Seventh Day Adventists in Lancaster.
“I look back and I see that my mother always served whole foods and even used some homeopathic remedies,” she said. “And I always find my way back to that because it makes me feel better.”
Besides food, Holloway is also passionate about books. Her original idea was to sell used books, but friends helped her to realize that she needed to sell new books if she wanted to do more than break even.
Her friend Lisa Martell helped her pick out titles that would sell. They range from children’s titles, to those on health, politics, gardening, nature, art, and, of course, cooking. They’re displayed in a wooden bookcase across from the kitchen area in the restaurant.
Another friend, Patrice Brymner, has arranged for a monthly book exchange the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon for those who want to give and/or take away used books at no charge. Many of those books are also available for perusing during regular café hours.
Holloway is making use of her other hometown connections, as well. She has friends who are offering yoga, Pilates, gratitude workshops, and more in the space behind the restaurant, which is also available for rent for private functions. She is also working on making connections with growers of local produce, and has a “pipedream” that one day she will have a plot of land on which to farm.
Holloway was pleasantly surprised by the large and positive response at her opening on June 26, at which she served entrees including maple and ginger tofu with brown rice and spinach, udon noodles with vegetables, and kim bab, a Korean-style seaweed wrap filled with brown rice and vegetables.
She hopes her enterprise will grow in both space and scope, and would like to use the room behind the restaurant for art openings and classes.
She envisions the restaurant as a venue for middle- and high-school student art shows, adult art classes, coffee houses, music, poetry and story readings, and poetry slams.
Although her first application for a grant to fund art openings that showcase local talent was unsuccessful, she dreams of having an art co-op that could help local artists sell their work.
“I want to have more art,” she said. “I want to take it one step farther and have celebrations around it. I’d like to have a day to celebrate the creative side of everyone. You don’t have to be formally trained.”
As for the menu, Holloway advocates channeling love and energy into every aspect of food preparation.
“I recently read a story about an experiment conducted by a chef from Kripalu (Center for Yoga and Health,” she said. “The chef consciously put love into every aspect of the preparation of the food for a weekend convention, and everything got eaten. The next time the chef prepared the food, she put no loving energy into it, and nobody ate it. For me, it’s a creative process and I love being in the moment.”
Wholesome Café and Bookstore, 25 Main St., Ayer, open Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.