Cedar Rapids’ Rawlicious Café Serves a Vegan Spin on Your Craveable Favorites

Here in meat-and-potato country, we Midwesterners have been fed a steady diet of casseroles, pork steaks and bratwurst since the day we could first lift a fork.

So, when renowned vegan chef Jessica LaFayette found her way back to her home state of Iowa after graduating from the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., she knew convincing a town of omnivores to consider the merits of a raw, plant-based diet would be a challenge—but it was one she was ready for.

Since opening Rawlicious in Cedar Rapids in 2017, LaFayette has found a way to meet the tastes of raw movement converts and devoted meat lovers alike by crafting stick-to-your-ribs vegan versions of everyone’s favorite comfort foods. Whether feasting on nostalgic favorites like “tuna” sandwiches or tailgate-ready grub like burritos and nachos, customers leave with full stomachs and a greater appreciation for the versatility of raw cuisine.

“It’s so important for me to show people here that healthy can still taste delicious,” LaFayette says. “When it comes to a plant-based diet, so many people think it’s all just salads and that they’ll starve if they eat raw. I wanted to bring the movement back here so I could offer vegan options anyone would enjoy.”

Dedicated to nutrition, focused on flavor

At Rawlicious, you won’t find a stove or oven in LaFayette’s kitchen, but instead a dehydrator, food processor, juicer and blender. All of the plant-based ingredients she uses are fresh, and none of the menu items are cooked above 118 degrees to protect the food’s natural enzymes for maximum nutritional value.

“It’s as close to eating living food as you can get,” she says.

To appeal to those wary of raw, LaFayette, along with her husband and business partner, Tony, built Rawlicious’ menu around meals most Midwesterners are familiar with, holding on to the flavors they love, but incorporating a fresh twist. And because people eat with their eyes first, they make their items as visually appealing as they are tasty, ensuring they’re hard for anyone to resist.

For instance, the restaurant is known for their bell pepper chips, which are chopped by hand and dehydrated to offer that signature crunchy bite people crave. House-made sausage and sweet potato burritos are served up with cornbread muffins loaded with coconut butter while their nut meat-based Taco Bowl is topped with cashew sour cream and a French-style dressing for an extra kick.

Cedar Rapids’ Rawlicious Café Serves a Vegan Spin on Your Craveable Favorites

Most new customers, however, take their first journey into the raw food movement by way of Rawlicious’ dessert counter, where LaFayette’s famous vegan desserts, such as turtle cheesecake and key lime pie, have turned the raw curious to full-on devotees.

“Everybody has a sweet tooth—that’s how you get most people to try raw food in the first place,” LaFayette says. “Once they realize how good it really is, they’re ready to try other things and venture out. We’ve gotten a lot of repeat customers, which is super exciting for me since we’re one of the pioneers of the raw food movement in the Midwest. It’s exciting to hear when people are amazed by the food and the quality and how good it can taste—I love that aspect of it!”

Rawlicious is located at 1101 3rd St. SE in the Frond Design Studio in the NewBo District of Cedar Rapids. Besides serving up lunch every Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Rawlicious also offers catering services, raw cooking classes and organic juice cleanses.

Images courtesy of Studio U Photo in Cedar Rapids.

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