The Clever Root

Spring 2018

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3 8 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t F NICKY FORK AS A WISCONSIN NATIVE, I can attest that Midwesterners prefer to stick to tradition when it comes to their food. They don't easily follow fads or trends, and not too long ago, the entire region was a culinary wasteland for anyone identifying as vegetarian or vegan. While it's still far from a plant eater's paradise, oases like J. Selby's in St. Paul, Minnesota, aim to turn the tide with menus completely devoid of meat. Delve beyond the housemade veggie corn dogs, kombucha on tap, and sweets from local bakery Vegan East, however, and you'll find that owner Matt Clay- ton's unlikely restaurant in the land of beef and dairy has an equally-improba- ble backstory. When Clayton retired from practicing general surgery after 25 years, he had no plans in mind for what to do next and decided to take a continuing educa- tion course to keep his medical license current. The class, taught by renowned nutritional expert T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, focused on the health benefits of a plant-based diet. After he completed the course, Clayton knew he wanted to help move the population toward this healthy and sustainable approach to nutrition. Inspira- tion struck during a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where he ate at a plant-based restaurant that also appealed to omnivores. The owner offered to help guide Clayton on his quest to open something similar in the Twin Cities. Once he returned home, Clayton immediately encountered some roadblocks: Skeptical that his concept would work in the Midwestern market, banks ini- tially balked at offering loans, but Clayton persisted and secured the funding he needed. He also struggled to source ingredients at first: "If you're one of the only places in town doing something, your suppliers won't always carry what you need," he explains. While the logistics initially created some headaches, they also helped spawn some inventive solutions in the kitchen. Once the kitchen was built and the menu conceptualized (Clayton filled it with plant-based options tweaked with the Minnesotan palate in mind), J. Selby's opened in April 2017. Clayton says they initially expected to serve 300 to 400 people per day when they were fully operational, but they ended up serving 900 customers on two consecutive days during their opening week. When they ran out of food at noon on a Friday for the second time, Clayton decided to shut down for two weeks to rebuild the kitchen, hire more bakers, and completely revamp how his staff prepped for the day. The initial success has not only continued, but grown: The restaurant had its most successful week to date in March. "Summer is just around the corner, so it will only get busier," Clayton says. "It shows that we can maintain success." The meatless BBQ Beaf with house made barbecue sauce and spicy slaw on a fresh hoagie roll. J. Selby's, located in St. Paul, MN, features plant- based food with a Midwestern twist. A Midwestern FORMER SURGEON MATT CLAYTON EDUCATES THE TWIN CITIES ON PLANT-BASED NUTRITION AT J. SELBY'S by Emily Coleman PHOTOS COURTESY OF J. SELBY'S Veggie Revolution ■cr

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