Wild About Organic Food in Millville

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Wildflower Cafe

Eric Nyman takes care of a customer just before New Year's Eve 2017. He has big plans for the new year. (PHOTOS: JEFF SCHWACHTER)

MILLVILLE, NJ —Seven years ago when Eric Nyman opened the Wildflower Café in Millville, he didn’t know how the community would take to his “earthly vegan fare,” which was the restaurant’s tagline when it opened.

“It was an all-in gamble in those early days,” he says. “Initially we thought most of our business would be catering and resale at health food stores, but we found out almost immediately there is an immense demand for a full-service plant-based dining experience [in Cumberland County].”

After retiring the trusty ‘77 Chevy lunch truck he had been using as a food truck in Cherry Hill for a while, he used the proceeds from the sale to open up the kitchen at his first brick-and-mortar vegan restaurant—The Wildflower Café.

Most people ‘accidentally’ eat vegan foods all the time.

Nyman says that he has seen his business increase dramatically from those early days.

“People have been very kind and supportive over the years,” he says during a busy weekday lunch rush. “Some grants from the downtown have allowed us to spring for better branding and signage to increase our visibility. There is massive interest in vegan eating and we have a wonderful, well-established customer base so we feel confident in continuing to invest and expand.”

Eric Wildflower 2018 Nyman is a pioneer of sorts in the wellness and healthy living trend that is not only sweeping the nation, but Cumberland County as well. While he credits the American Vegan Society in Malaga as “deserving the pioneering credit” locally, Nyman adds that he recently found out—by a customer from North Jersey—that his café is one of the longest running all-vegan establishments in all of New Jersey.

“Most people ‘accidentally’ eat vegan foods all the time—oatmeal, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, spaghetti with marinara, an apple. I think especially in the past few years the word ‘vegan’ has gone from being negative or polarizing to universal and positive.”

In addition to serving a steady client base, Nyman and the café work with many other entities and businesses in the county, from the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts for vegan cooking demos and classes, to area restaurants to the Cumberland County Department of Health, which in 2017 launched many related initiatives.

“The new [county] healthy eating initiatives are excellent,” he says, noting the health department’s Healthy Food Network, which includes a Healthy Worksite program and Healthy Corner Store program.

“The restaurant world outside of cities changes very slowly so every opportunity to educate and improve is needed,” says Nyman. “I am excited they are putting on a brunch for local restaurateurs in the near future, which should be a great opportunity to share information and insights.”

Although there is an abundance of fast-food eateries throughout the county, Nyman says it’s time there are more healthy options for the public.

Wildflower staff “There is enough diversity in the vegetable kingdom for cuisine of every style, for every palate, for every person,” he says. “Southern New Jersey has the farms to lead in this area.”

Nyman also works with the AVS for special dinners each year.

“The American Vegan Society is one of the best-kept secrets nationally though,” says Nyman. “[They’re] an incredible resource, which has been putting out quality vegan education and support materials for nearly 60 years. [It] is our honor to uphold and expand the tradition, and really to be a vegan business now as it goes mainstream is nice from a living comfort and financial security perspective.”

Nyman says that in early 2018 the café will be expanding.

“We’ll be taking over the last unit in our building in a few weeks and be renovating to have more dining space, a larger kitchen, and more storage, so expect our homespun construction adventures to continue for a while.” Nyman, his partners and staffers at the café are happy to serve their tasty organic meals and treats to anyone who walks through the door—vegan or not. What would he say to someone who has never thought about eating organic or vegan?

“Give peas a chance.”

Visit wildflowervegan.com for more information.

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