Remembering The Red Avocado

In the midst of this season of affection, it is with regretful hearts that we commemorate the closing of one of Iowa City’s most beloved eateries, The Red Avocado. As we reflect on the loss of our premier vegan/vegetarian/organic sanctuary, we think back on summer hours spent lounging on the patio, sangria in hand, Dustin Busch strumming the mood. Or huddling in the entryway mid-winter, stamping snow off our boots and greeting our neighbors, anticipating a fantastic meal in the company of good friends.

The catharsis of remembering can only slightly soothe our collective dismay that this landmark has been reduced to the rubble-pile after 12 years in business. But in spite of our feelings of loss, it is well worth acknowledging all that Owners Dave Burt, Katy Meyer and Rachael Langin have given to the Slow Food, locavore, vegan and vegetarian communities throughout the years.

There is a time for every purpose … and for the three owners of The Red Avocado, the purpose arising from these ashes is the continuation of a movement they helped found.

“I feel like Slow Food will continue to gain support over the next few years. It is just one of those things that makes too much sense,” says Rachael Langin, co-owner and pastry chef. Although she’s uncertain of her immediate plans for the future, she’s glad to have had the chance to work in local, sustainable, organic food.

For Co-owner David Burt, who was among three original founders of The Red Avocado, education is the logical next step in his career as keeper of the local food flame. “Cooking classes have been more and more popular, and I will be building on that,” he says. He also hopes to become more involved in local schools and to start an educational blog where friends and fans can learn about the monthly farm dinners he plans to host, the veggie burgers he distributes to local grocers and the continuation of The Red Avocado’s weekly meal plans.

Everything else tastes bad after you eat here.

-Darcy Burnett, Barista

Co-owner Katy Meyer hopes to open another vegan restaurant in Iowa City, which is good news for all who’ve tasted her incredible dishes. “I’m most proud of the work I’ve done utilizing our local food chain,” she says, “Building relationships with amazing local growers, purchasing their products, and then creating meals on a daily basis using their beautiful food and sharing my creations with our customers, with whom I’ve also formed cherished connections.” She hopes to continue to grow these relationships in her future endeavors.

For most diners at The Red Avocado, be they vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, the main attraction was the fabulous food. Diners could feel the chef’s appreciation for fresh local ingredients in the way they coaxed each flavor to peak performance; in their kitchen even the humble turnip could be elevated to a queen’s status–each earthy, bittersweet note played in full.

I don’t even think of this as a vegetarian or vegan restaurant; I think of this as a gourmet gem.

-Elizabeth Cummings, customer

It is the place where my palate officially grew up, the beginning of my education in food. Not only did The Red Avocado celebrate the local, they promoted organic, sustainable agriculture well before it was trendy to do so. Elizabeth Cummings, local animal advocate and regular customer remarks that “for someone like me, who has compassion for all … it’s good to be able to go somewhere and have a really good meal and know that animals, farm workers and the environment weren’t harmed in any way.”

We will probably never understand the secrets of how the generations of owners and staff at The Red Avocado were able to transform a damp, cinder-block-walled basement into such a unique, inviting space. “The experience here is appropriately funky for Iowa City,” remarked customer Tom Yates on one of the Avocado’s last days. From their cramped kitchen such magic emerged–the fruits of our local farms transformed into high culinary art, each plate garnished with an elegant swirl of sauce, every sprig of cilantro carefully placed.

To me it’s part of what makes Iowa City unique, it’s part of what makes downtown Iowa City the attraction that it is. It’s part of the history as far as I’m concerned, and it’s a damn shame we’re going to lose it

-Kenn Bowen, customer

Their mission could have ended with the food, but they promoted the local in every possible way, from photography and pottery lining the walls to live music performances both indoors and out. They transformed a quirky basement into a community of friends and foodies. It was a place to gather, a place where your neighbors sat so close you may as well be having dinner together … and sometimes you inadvertently did.

Even through the grief and anger, as I spoke to customers on one of the restaurants final days in business, a consistent appreciation emerged for the transformative food experiences The Red Avocado has given us over the years. To Dave, Katy and Rachael, this message remains: Wherever you go, those of us who love your food, and respect your mission, will follow.

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