At Vitiman Kandie Cafe’s location on E. 105th St. in Glenville, a book titled “From This to That: The Key to a Lifestyle Change: Beginners Guide to Setting Fitness Goals” sits in a display case next to a few bottles of CBD products. It is surrounded by baked goods and an assortment of bagged snacks, drinks, cold wraps, and salads on the other shelves of the display.
The author of the book, Mary Johnson, opened the first location of Vitiman Kandie in Richmond Heights in 2019, followed by a location at the GlenVillage business incubator the next year. Vitiman Kandie sells healthy food options including cold-pressed juices, herbs, sea moss, smoothies, and sandwiches.
Johnson recently moved from a station in the back of the building at the GlenVillage business incubator to a spot in the front of the building after the previous business left. But bigger changes are coming for Vitiman Kandie.
Johnson is planning to open a restaurant this month at 7228 Euclid Ave. as part of the Foundry development in MidTown, a place where she already has roots from holding cooking classes at Dave’s Market & Eatery (she’ll keep the GlenVillage location, too, she said). She has plans to continue her efforts to promote health and wellness in the community and is planning to partner with a nutritionist near the new location to provide low-cost professional advice to her customers.
Through her cafe, Johnson wants to make more healthy food options available to neighborhoods that lack access to fresh produce and other nutritious foods. She said the cafe will offer the same products as the GlenVillage location, as well as an expanded menu that will include some items that were previously specials.
“You don’t want to keep your community in the same mindset that, ‘If I’m gonna grab something quick to eat, I’m gonna go down to McDonald’s or I’m gonna go down to Burger King,’” Johnson said. “So if I can offer more value to the community – they can walk to my place; they don’t even have to drive – that’s what I’m all for.”
Planting seeds in MidTown, Vitiman Kandie’s next home
The goal of the GlenVillage business incubator is to help businesses get off the ground and overcome early-stage obstacles so they can later move into a permanent space after completing a two-year run. Johnson is currently doing a trial run at her new spot at the front of the building at GlenVillage and may stay for up to two more years.
When Johnson was looking for another space for her business, she connected with Sophie Mueller, the innovation and economic development coordinator at the community development corporation MidTown Cleveland. Johnson and Mueller began searching for spaces for Vitiman Kandie in January 2022 and eventually landed on the space at 7228 Euclid Ave on the first floor of the Foundry Lofts apartment building.
“Mary and Vitiman Kandie Café really align with our Neighborhood Vision Plan, which is a plan to realize MidTown as a thriving and sustainable neighborhood,” Mueller said.
Vitiman Kandie will fill a need for gathering places and healthy food spots among MidTown’s large office buildings and vacant warehouses, Mueller said. It will be an asset to residents of the Foundry apartments upstairs and Church Square Commons senior housing down the street. “We don’t have a lot of first-floor retail spaces, so it’s really exciting that she’s going to bring that energy back to Euclid Avenue,” Mueller said.
While the cafe at GlenVillage is more of a grab-and-go spot, the new location on Euclid will be a restaurant with space for guests to sit. The added space allows Johnson to add dishes like vegan meatloaf to the regular menu, instead of having specials for certain days of the week.
Vitiman Kandie was one of 55 small businesses that received American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from Cuyahoga County. The grant will go toward paying for part of the build-out for the new location, as well as operational expenses. MidTown is near Glenville – the new location is just over two miles from GlenVillage – so customers who frequent the Glenville location can continue to benefit from Vitiman Kandie after its run at GlenVillage is up, Johnson said.
Johnson will work with a staff of 10 at the new restaurant: two chefs, two cashiers, two prep people, two floaters (including an assistant manager), and two managers.
In addition to the classes at the Teaching Kitchen at Dave’s Market & Eatery (located on the corner of Chester and E. 61st St.) and her partnership with the dietician, starting a community garden has been another goal of Johnson’s from the beginning. Johnson has partnered with the urban farm Rid-All Green Partnership to put on a cooking class about growing and cooking with herbs, and she is hopeful that she’ll have her own garden when she sets up shop in MidTown.
She shares her knowledge of cooking and health with the community “with such openness and honesty and willingness to answer questions,” MidTown’s Mueller said.
Vitiman Kandie’s beginnings, plans for the future
Health and wellness are important to Johnson because of her personal health journey. In 2009, she made lifestyle changes like eating healthy foods and working out, and she became a certified fitness trainer in 2010. People who were once her gymmates became her clients, she said.
As a fitness trainer, Johnson created meal plans for her clients and realized that many people were having trouble keeping up with the plans. She created Vitiman Kandie because she wanted to show people that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing taste.
“We often refer to the way that we eat as a diet. I don’t like that word. ‘Diet’ is kind of cliche in my book because a diet is temporary; lifestyle is forever,” Johnson said. “So if you want to live a healthier lifestyle, you have to create that. And if you’re just keeping your mind on, ‘I’m dieting, I’m dieting, I’m dieting,’ you’re gonna keep reverting back to the same old habits. The whole point of moving your life to the next level is change, and if we are not dead-set on that change, how are we making it a lifestyle?”
Johnson’s book about her own health journey includes a three-step guide to starting out, followed by journaling space for people to track their goals, affirmations, and progress. Her writing will also be published in another book that will come out this spring. She’s one of several authors contributing to a book about cannabis by Dr. Bridget Williams, owner of Pickerington, Ohio-based cannabis clinic Green Harvest Health.
In addition to its storefronts, Vitiman Kandie also sells products, including herbs, teas, CBD products, and juices, online. Johnson said her long-term plan includes entering the wholesale market to bring her products to neighborhood stores and even larger retailers. She has also been looking for someone to buy into her brand and ultimately franchise it.
But for now, she’s focusing on growing her business to promote health and wellness and reach more communities. “I just want to be able to share my knowledge and my journey with people that don’t know that they can do it, and it’s not as hard as it seems,” she said.
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