Written & Photographed by A Wild Dove
To quote the “Cheers” theme song, Gingersnap’s Organic is indeed a place where everyone knows your name. Except instead of offering pints of beer or shots of whiskey, this homey West Village cafe is serving up delicious juices, salads, wraps and pastas, all within the context of vegan, raw food. The brain behind the brainfood is Jamie Graber, an entrepreneur who opened Gingersnap’s four years ago, which in a short time has drawn significant buzz from both raw foodies and foodies alike.
When did you first get involved in the raw movement and was there one memory or moment when you realized this was the lifestyle for you?
I was raw for five years, until I met my husband, who is a chef, which changed things. I was living in LA at the time and doing a yoga teacher training and I had struggled with eating. But after doing teacher training and just being in California, I was eating more plant-based for sure, but I wasn’t attached to anything. All the sudden I went raw and it was amazing. I hadn’t even thought about going into it for work, but one of the of girls in class started talking about Juliano Brotman, the head chef at Juliano’s Raw. I met him next day and he said, ‘You’re hired...I don’t know what for, but you’ll work here.’ That propelled me. From there, I managed a restaurant called Rawvolution. When I moved on a whim to New York, I came home to feel it out. I landed and stayed and ended up opening here.
Graber got her start, as most raw proponents do, in Los Angeles, but her hometown soon came calling, where she saw a void in the market for a proper sit-down cafe offering delicious plant-based fare. We sat down with Graber to talk about juices, meat-eating husbands and why french fries aren’t always such a bad thing -
WHAT’S THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND GINGERSNAPS ORGANIC?
It morphs and changes so often. At first I thought it would be a store with all raw foods from around the city. But I started paying attention to signs and flow and I met my husband, and it turned into to more of a cafe. At the time, there was One Lucky Duck but there was no room to sit, it wasn’t quite the thing we were talking about. My husband is very much a meat eater. He studied at the French Culinary Institute and cooked at Del Posto. He said, ‘You need to make a place where even if I didn’t eat this way, I would love it.’ Also I wanted a plant based menu that was light. Lots of vegan food is really heavy with tofus and seitans. It has a nice balance to it. Then we started with juices, which is a huge part of our business. We’re now offering cleanses and that’ how it all evolved.
How has the raw food movement evolved or changed since you opened the shop?
I think there is a larger amount of options with all the pop-up places and chains like Juice Press and Juice Generation. They all have some raw options. When I was raw, I was so dogmatic about it. It was a label of who I was. Now, what’s nice is that it’s part of people’s lives but it’s not like, you’re either raw or you’re not. Our customer is more like my husband. Everyone is putting raw into their diets now, it’s not just diehards.
What's one thing that would surprise most people about the raw lifestyle?
People think it has to be all or nothing. Again, it’s about understanding the benefits of a plant-based diet without having to go the whole way. I think people are surprised that I will eat french fries. I eat stuff that has no nutritional value but when I live in the space of mostly plant-based food, there is room to have other foods in life. And you wind up feeling OK because you don’t overdo it. It keeps you in balance. Once you decide to be in a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a candy bar. There’s room for all of it.
Where do you see the future of Gingersnaps Organic going?
I love the idea of a community cafe. I love knowing so many people and who know my staff. It's their family. I have no desire to have multiple locations. Certainly not in New York. Where I see myself five years from now is probably having one shop in LA and spending time in both places.
That’s the big dream.