If I told you that patronizing a local café in Old Towne Petersburg could be the key to transforming your life and health, would you believe me? Well, it just happens to be true. Tucked away on Market Street in Old Towne Petersburg, you will find Local Vibe Café. It’s my favorite place for lunch. Having adopted a predominantly plant-based diet myself since being diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be challenging to find places that offer a variety of options. Local Vibe provides countless delicious options for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Owner Donnie Cornwell adopted a healthier lifestyle initially as a joke while working at Capital One. He wanted to see for himself what it was like to eat a vegan diet, having always poked fun at the lifestyle but never thinking for a second that he’d love it! He was amazed to discover that he was quickly dropping pounds (ultimately 65 lbs to be exact!) and that suddenly his coworkers wanted to know what he was eating and asked for recipes. He started with a vegetable stir fry and was surprised at how it filled him up. After a couple of weeks he went raw vegan for 6 months. His energy levels soared. He never imagined that he would be an inspiration to others. Fast forward to today and he’s now made a business out of inspiring others to adopt a healthier lifestyle and that has left him feeling “humbled”.
When he got laid off from Capital One in January of 2016, Donnie had to come up with a plan B for his career. One day soon after, his mother told him about a building that she was going to see, with the idea of possibly starting a business. So, he accompanied her there and met Linda Pittman who, along with husband Dale, was looking for a project in Petersburg. Ultimately friendship, a love of good food, and a mutual desire to contribute to the development of Old Towne led to an extensive and wonderful renovation of a small building on Market Street that now houses this nutritional powerhouse. The story is all too familiar to me, as 18 years ago, a local couple also made it possible for us to renovate our buildings on Cockade Alley and open The Brickhouse Run. In both cases, a wonderful marriage of resources, vision and passion that can make such a difference in a city such as Petersburg. Along the way, Donnie also got to do a Shark Tank-like pitch at Community Business Launch which earned him a 3rd place prize of $8,000 in start-up capital!
Another amazing transformation:
When I asked Donnie why he wanted to open Local Vibe and his vision for it, he explained that he wanted to do something for Petersburg that was small scale but with a big city concept. He wanted to serve healthy food in an area where meat-centric menus typically reign. However, he wanted it to be more mainstream, not “out there” and therefore accessible to all. So, for starters, they do serve chicken, shrimp and cheese whereas in a larger city, this might have been at very least a vegetarian if not vegan concept. But, there are literally hundreds of combinations to enjoy whether you eat meat or not. Many items on the menu were created through trial and error. The two most popular dishes are the Cilantro Madness bowl and the Local Fave wrap. There are about a dozen set bowls and wraps to choose from if you are overwhelmed at the idea of creating your own. My favorite thing to do is to create my own bowl with BBQ Tofu. I’ll start with a salad base, then add Vibe Rice (brown rice mixed with their divine cilantro dressing), then add a mix of colorful vegetables and chickpeas with dried cranberries and almonds. What’s not to love? It’s beautiful, delicious and SO good for you. I can genuinely vouch for how this way of eating helps you as my total cholesterol lowered 63 points and my blood pressure normalized after adopting this lifestyle without any additional medications. I was shocked. As a society so many of our ills could be cured by eating more vegetables and fruits. It’s that simple.
I was really impressed to learn that the ONLY canned item in the kitchen here, are the chickpeas. Why? Because the liquid can be used as an egg substitute called “aquafaba”. Combined with powdered sugar, it makes the meringue topping for the delicious chocolate sweet potato pies. All desserts here are vegan (and lovingly made by Donnie’s Mom, Melody) including the oatmeal raisin cookies that call my name every time at checkout. They make their own vegetable stock here too, which is used to cook the beans, rice and quinoa. They take great pride in even checking the macronutrients in their Feel Better chicken and rice soup. This is a place that cares about us!
So not only is the food delicious and good for you, it is also extremely healthy for our local economy….a win-win situation! Your bowl of food is often mostly sourced from farms and suppliers within a 40 mile radius. These include Two Veterans, Virginia Vegetable Company, Lil Sprouts, Schofield Farms, Mareks Produce and Old Dominion Farms. Donnie even cited the Food Lion in Ettrick who purchase their red leaf lettuce from a grower in Mechanicsville.
So what does one drink here? Local, of course! The bottled beer comes from Petersburg’s own Trapezium, Beale’s of Bedford and Blue Mountain from up near Charlottesville. And then there’s my personal favorite, Red Mushroom Kombucha out of Norfolk. If you haven’t tried Kombucha, it’s a delicious fermented low calorie drink with probiotics. A great alternative to alcohol (try the Buch’arita!) and certainly better than sodas. Talking of which, in keeping with remaining accessible, Donnie does offer bottled sodas such as Coke. However, they are kept intentionally on the bottom shelf while healthier alternatives, including filtered water, secure the prime eye-level spots in the refrigerator.
Despite 80 to 90 hour workweeks, Donnie tells me he truly loves getting to know the people who frequent his place and being his own boss. He enjoys building relationships and has loved the fact that many customers are changing their lifestyles since coming to eat here. He’s working on adapting menu items for Diabetics, a children’s menu and selling his housemade salad dressings. He now offers catering and even has a more long term goal of franchising.
As a Petersburg resident, former restauranteur, and (now mostly health) foodie, I am very grateful and take my hat off to the Pittman’s and Donnie Cornwell’s partnership to bring us not only another wonderful renovation, but also seriously good food. The restaurant industry is tough; trust me, I know. When you eat locally at a place like this you help realize a dream for the owner who is not only providing a service, but also providing jobs for locals, supporting other local businesses, adding to the tax base and making us healthier all at the same time. What’s not to love about that? Try it, your tastebuds and your body will thank you!
Hours: Monday – Saturday 11:00am until 8:00pm for eat-in and take-out. 414 Market St, Petersburg, VA 23803 (804) 324-4562 www.localvibecafe.com
Please note: I was not compensated in any way for this piece. I just happen to love my adopted City of Petersburg and my fellow citizens who work hard to make it an even greater place to live! I also love to write about and photograph my travels and most especially, about food.