Serendipity Café is one of many places vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike can find fresh, healthy, and gluten-free meals.
DUNEDIN – When Kim Mohr noticed she couldn’t get through the day without a nap, sometimes two, she began to worry about her health and wondered what the cause might be.
Her fatigue grew worse when she became a massage therapist. She also developed arthritis-like symptoms, including chronic joint and muscle pain, dry eyes, and digestive distress.
So she decided to take her health into her own hands.
She signed up for a health-counseling program hoping to find the answers. For 10 months in 2008 and 2009, she spent one weekend a month in New York City learning about healthy eating and earning a health-coaching certificate along the way.
“I was looking for answers,” she said. “I for some reason felt it was lifestyle- and food-related. It was a gut feeling, I guess, literally.”
During the fourth weekend of the class, one of the speakers addressed food allergies, which included gluten, and something clicked for Mohr. As the speaker went down the list of symptoms, Mohr recognized her own recent health issues.
So when she went home she decided to eliminate gluten from her life.
She made the mistake of moving from processed foods to gluten-free processed foods – crackers, cookies, and breads. When she still had digestive issues, she decided to adopt a strict whole foods diet, eliminating all processed food, and began to feel better.
“When I started to incorporating more vegetables and whole foods into my diet I really noticed a difference,” she said.
Then in March 2010, Mohr decided to open a completely gluten-free restaurant in Dunedin, Serendipity Café.
It was never her life’s plan to open a restaurant, she said. “Really to this day I’m not sure how this became a full-blown restaurant.”
After she received her health-coaching certificate she began teaching cooking classes at First Presbyterian Church and the Dunedin Recreation Center. She’d always loved food, but had no formal training or professional experience aside from teaching these classes.
“I love food very much,” she said. “I don’t have any formal experience in the culinary world except I’ve been cooking for 30 years. I love flavors and textures. I guess I’m a foodie.”
Initially, she planned to open an office where she could do both health coaching and massage. She’d include a smoothie and juice bar for her clients. But this quickly evolved into what Serendipity Café is today – a restaurant offering gluten-free, whole foods meals.
“I never had a thought in my head that I might do something like this,” Mohr said. “I like to say I’m on a mission from God, because I don’t know where all of this is coming from.”
When Serendipity Café opened, she took on the roles of cook, dishwasher and prep person, and only had one server. She opened with only enough money to pay one month’s rent and worked 80 hours a week. After hours, she was a personal chef for several clients, cooking healthy meals they could eat at home.
There was also no money for advertising. So she had to rely on word of mouth. Because the menu focuses on whole foods, many of the items are inadvertently vegetarian or vegan.
“As more people started to get wind of this place, it seemed like we were attracting a lot of vegan and vegetarian customers,” Mohr said.
Mohr isn’t a vegetarian, though she doesn’t eat much meat.
“I just eat little bits of meat here and there,” she said. “I think of meat more of as a condiment. You’ll never see me with a 20 oz. t-bone.”
When she saw the clientele Serendipity was drawing, she decided to consciously offer more interesting veggie items – black bean burgers, raw tacos, jalapeno poppers, crispy Cajun chickpea cakes – incorporating seeds, nuts and vegetables for a well-rounded vegetarian meal.
In 2011, the gluten-free lifestyle received significant media attention as more people around the globe began to adopt that lifestyle.
“(It) was slated the biggest year for gluten-free,” she said. “We opened right on the cusp of that and the market exploded.”
There was backlash, of course, she said. “There’s always going to be backlash. Whatever, let the haters hate.”
She just focused on cooking healthy meals and educating people on gluten-free living.
“One of the enduring trends I’ve seen concerning the backlash against gluten free is it’s not for everyone; that it’s not a nutrient-dense lifestyle,” she said. “But from my education and my understanding the magical whole grains are the ones you have to cook that don’t come in highly refined bread: brown rice, quinoa, organic oats. The food that needs extra work is where the real whole grain benefits are. The backlash is very misleading.”
In addition to gluten-free, vegan and whole foods meals, Mohr is also conscious of GMOs and organic eating. About 80 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients are organic and she avoids GMOs
“It’s a very conscious café, that’s for sure,” she said.
Serendipity Café is located at 664 Main St., Dunedin. It’s open Tuesday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit myserendipitycafe.com.