Side Dishes: Montpelier restaurateur closes café to pursue vegan venture
For 14 years, Montpelierites have relied on Rhapsody Café for its vegan buffet six days a week. On March 27, the era will end. On that day, says owner Elysha Welters, she and her family will “invite our customers to have a lunch on us” as a final thank-you for the community’s support. Then Rhapsody will close.
But Welters isn’t leaving the food business. Her family — including husband, Sjon, two of their children and some grandchildren — has moved to Cabot, where, she says, they have built a sustainable community around their new processing venture.
Since Rhapsody opened, the Welters clan has manufactured tempeh, amazake (fermented rice milk) and egg rolls in the restaurant’s kitchen. Over the years, demand has grown (“The egg rolls are selling like hotcakes,” jokes Welters), and a larger factory has become a necessity. The facility will also allow the family’s company, Rhapsody Natural Foods, to expand its offerings. Welters says tofu cheese pizzas and burgers will soon join their other products, which have long been staples at local natural-foods markets.
The Cabot property has been home to Rhapsody Farm since 2008. Welters says it has room for seven more buildings that could house farmers supplying the business with soybeans, wheat or rice.
That’s right, rice. For two years, the Welters’ have been experimenting with japonica, a rice strain that thrives in cold weather. Though Welters says her paddies so far have been tiny, “the yield has been great. It’s just fantastic and easy.” She hopes that in coming years, Rhapsody’s amazake will be wholly local.
Despite the business’ expansion, don’t expect to see Rhapsody’s products at Whole Foods any time soon. “We’re focused on the local community,” says Welters. She says the products will stay in northern Vermont, New York and New Hampshire.
At its core, says Welters, the Rhapsody brand is about education. “We want to show the community we don’t need animal-based food,” she says. “You can live on plant-based protein. We raised our children and now grandchildren on that.”