Beat of Their Own Drum

I’d been coming to Beet Jar for weeks before I finally sat down to talk to owner Joseph Joseph … or tried to.

“Joseph, you gotta fix these stools,” I said from a perch about five inches too low.

“It’s not meant to be comfortable,” he said.

The seats were low, the music dissonant noise pop, the wedges of cheezcake fluorescent green and spelled with a ‘z.’ This was no plush and low-lit lounge. And yet, Beet Jar is somehow one of the most authentically welcoming, wholesome, yes, even warm places I’d been that frigid winter.

A cuddly porcupine, soulful but edgy, Beet Jar proves heart can come not from appeasing everyone, but from first trusting and expressing yourself. It’s not meant to be comfortable, but somehow, it was. I hunched over my juice and asked why.

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If you already know one thing about Beet Jar, it’s their juice, which is cold-pressed and raw. Each cup is an unpasteurized elixir for cleansing, refreshing, and defending against, well, pretty much everything.

If you know another, it’s the Bravocado. This is a sandwich with a fan club—a sandwich with a mouthwatering mugshot that rakes in retweets, rules Instagram feeds with a crusty crown, and has its own sweatshirt. A sandwich so sui generis in its perfection that newbies think the stack of compostable, cellophane-wrapped beauties on the counter—if they are lucky to find any left—are display items.

The Bravocado was born—like everything about Beet Jar, I’d come to learn—of focused, frenetic improvisation. It was the spring of 2014 and Joseph and his business partner, Molly Pamela, were playing around with vegan bacon, or toasted seasoned coconut flakes, and, as any vegans worth their sustainably harvested sea salt, they had a Vitamix. Beet Jar was opening in a week, and they needed a sandwich on the menu. Ideas buzzed; the blender whirred.

“When you get a Vitamix, you just make stuff to experiment,” Joseph said. “Even if you don’t need mayonnaise or a dressing, you make one. So we made a cashew mayonnaise and paired it with the bacon, and, whoa, that salty bacon flavor with the savory sweet cream was just amazing.”

Well yeah, any carnivore worth his dry rub knows the glory of bacon and mayo. The combo is so familiar, that it’s most common iteration has been reduced to an acronym. But the magic of the Bravocado is its serendipitous discovery.

“We weren’t trying to make a vegan BLT,” Joseph said. “It was a moment of desperation.”

“People think being vegan is just tofu and carrots, but it’s a whole world of flavors,” Molly said. Their mission isn’t trying to convince people to be vegan. They’re trying to make good food, not to capitalize on a trend.

“It’s not hard to be vegan in Cleveland,” Joseph says. But it’s not always fun. “Some places, their vegan sandwich is just all the vegetables.” In a word, careless.

Both artists—she an art school grad, he a drummer—Molly and Joseph, know that we eat with our eyes first. This is photogenic food —and they designed it that way.

“Instead of just making a strawberry cheesecake, we add beets to blow up the color. Or use carrots as the base of an orange creamsicle cheesecake to make it pop,” Molly explained. “People will look at our smoothies and I’ll say, ‘What color are you craving?’ In the fall, they’ll say orange. In the summer, definitely something green—bright colors. In the winter, the Blue Reed is popular; it’s a nice dark navy.”

“This type of food is exciting,” Joseph said. “Most food is dark shades of brown—meat, Coca-Cola. We’re showcasing a rainbow.”

When we spoke, a few weeks shy of Beet Jar’s second anniversary, Joseph and Molly had both recently returned from trips to San Francisco. Joseph was jazzed on the plant-focused restaurant, Michelin-starred Al’s Place, where meat is more a garnish or side, and vegetables are the stars. Molly hiked the hills, grooving on house colors.

“My first day there, I walked seven miles, from downtown to the Haight. All those weird colors—pale-yellow, pale-blue. I don’t know if I even like those colors or not, but I started painting with them. And then I made food.”

A coconut lavender crumble on chia pudding recalls that pastel blue; goji berries in a slice of cake give a pop-rock sprinkle of pale pink. She’s trying to figure out how to get a matching blue; Joseph is working on another sandwich—totally raw this time. Blueberries? Sprouted seed bread?

Somewhere in that mix, between art and craft, the visual and the edible, is the wildly beating heart of Beet Jar. A place not meant to be anything but itself, run by artists trying only to stay curious and true.