BROOKFIELD — Robin Kasch, a retired massage therapist living in Glendale, became frustrated when she could not find a vegetarian restaurant in the Milwaukee metro area.
So, she and her husband James, a retired wholesale toy distributor, decided to open one in 2008. Their friends, and the restaurant professionals they consulted, strongly advised against it. After all, Wisconsin is famous for its supper clubs and restaurants serving steak, prime rib and fish. Not only that — the economy was heading into a historic downward spiral.
Despite these challenges, this past week, Café Manna celebrated its 14th anniversary of serving “fresh, yummy food” as the first restaurant in southeastern Wisconsin with an exclusive vegetarian and vegan menu.
“I am grateful,” Kasch told The Freeman. “I am grateful for my staff. I am grateful for my chef. I am grateful for my husband who has supported me in this,” she added.
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The wait staff is one of the reasons, according to Kasch, the restaurant has ratings of 4.8 of 5 from Facebook, 4.5 of 5 from Trip Advisor and a 4 out of 5 from Yelp.
“The waitstaff is extremely welcoming and friendly. They gave some wonderful menu suggestions,” wrote Alissa S. of the Town of Paris in her Yelp review.
Chef Jordan Short prepares the main dishes, deserts, small plates, soups, salads, sandwiches on a 20-item food menu that is complimented by deserts and beverages.
In addition, there are weekly specials prepared in the observances of holidays, changes in seasons and special occasions.
Vegan options are available on the food menu. There is food and drink service on an outdoor patio during the summer.
The menu is a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, seeds, nuts, tofu and tempeh, and specially prepared condiments, sauces, and toppings.
Produce trucks from Tony Machi Fruits and Vegetables Inc. of Milwaukee and Testa Produce Inc. of Chicago deliver daily the fresh ingredients that Short uses to prepare each meal from scratch.
Short described the spicy cashew cauliflower as one of the most popular dishes.
It is lightly battered and baked cauliflower tossed with carrot, onion, celery and edamame in a spicy glaze, and served with udon noodles and fresh sautéed vegetables in a ginger cashew sauce.
“I loved the Asian lettuce wraps and would highly recommend them. I am not a big tofu fan but what the chef did was totally on point,” Amy L of Madison wrote in her Yelp review.
The wraps are a blend of wild mushrooms, tofu, bean sprouts and green onions sauteed with savory maple ginger tamari sauce. They are served with crisp rice sticks, sambai chili sauce, fresh mango salsa and tender butter lettuce for wrapping.
One of the reasons Café Manna survived both The Great Recession and COVID is because of its ability to appeal to meat eaters, according to Kasch.
Initially, it was a popular lunch spot for women who later brought their husbands for dinner. “It was the wives dragging their meat-loving husbands here for dinner and then the husbands discovering they liked the fresh, yummy, good food,” she explained.
While the dining room was closed during COVID, customers were able to place carry-out orders online or by telephone and when they arrived at Café Manna their orders were delivered to their vehicles by the staff.
Café Manna is in the Sendik’s Towne Centre at the intersection of Capitol Drive and Brookfield Road. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is seating for about 40 customers, so reservations are suggested.