A new plant-based restaurant, Nikki Green, is scheduled to open the first weekend of November on 320 East State Street. Owner and restaurateur Jacky Falkenberg states it will be entirely plant-based. More specifically, Nikki Green will be a “plant-based restaurant featuring smoothie bowls, vegetable-based bowls, vegan desserts, and wellness-lattes.” It will also eventually have plant-based wines and beers as well.
The restaurant is named Nikki Green because Nikki is the name of Falkenberg’s sister, who is not vegan. “The restaurant is a way to make people like Nikki to eat more greens,” she says.
The focus of the restaurant is to be beautiful, good-tasting, fast, and casual, Falkenberg explains. It will also be very accommodating. “Lots of people have dietary restrictions. This place caters to them, since it’s plants as much as possible,” she says.
According to Falkenberg, there is an important difference between a vegan diet and a vegan lifestyle. A vegan diet involves a plant-based mentality, and is often for health or moral reasons. On the other hand, a vegan lifestyle is more of a whole gradient, and typically includes not wearing leather, not promoting processes that harm animals, and passionately supporting animal and environmental rights. For example, many types of sugar are filtered using animal products, and although the final product is vegan, Falkenberg explains that people with a vegan lifestyle avoid chemical processes that are harmful to animals.
“Everyone has different definitions of what is vegan,” explains Falkenberg. “The goal of Nikki Green is to make people feel they don’t have to compromise everything they have as the foundations of their life.”
Falkenberg is working to source a majority of her ingredients locally. She says she is “making sure it’s local as much as possible, organic, and uses no pesticides.” Additionally, the restaurant will work one-on-one with certain farms to promote local businesses and build a local economy.
There is a controversy around whether veganism is healthy, to which vegans often end up receiving societal criticism, Falkenberg acknowledged. People do need to take supplements to meet their individual needs and retain an optimal state, but veganism as both a diet and a lifestyle is “completely doable.” Conversely, it is a fact that eating greens is good for you, which will be a major focal point of Nikki Green.
Instead of competing with other healthy eateries in Ithaca, Falkenburg aims to “boost local businesses and get people to go downtown.” Nikki Green aims to “get more people to eat more good food and promote local businesses,” rather than engaging in a fight for customers. Nikki Green will also aim to address the problem that restaurants around the country serve food that is utterly detached from what they would feed themselves personally. This is a problem in society that needs to be addressed, according to Falkenburg. “Often the more people you cook for, the more you distance yourself from what you’re putting on the table,” she explains.
As manager, Falkenburg stresses the importance of maintaining integrity. Nikki Green will have better working conditions and treat workers better than the norm, she says. Similarly to several countries in Europe, tips will be included in the salaries for their workers, which Falkenberg concluded is only fair. There will be an open kitchen, in which the entire kitchen is on display, to build a greater sense of integrity and community. “More places will have to start making [good working conditions] the norm, because the consumer wants to see a world where that’s the norm. People will vote with their dollars, and my goal is to support companies that are moving in the right direction,” says Falkenberg.
Ithaca is a large cultural center for veganism, partially due to the Moosewood restaurant. Moosewood was one of the first all-vegetarian restaurants in the country, so people sharing that cultural value flocked to Ithaca, leading to a large older vegetarian community. “There’s a large amount of organic, vegetarian, and vegan [food] in the Ithaca community, which is great,” says Falkenberg.
Falkenberg says, “People too often associate vegan food with being bland and not having what they’re used to, so not being good, then they don’t try them.” She wants to challenge the conception that vegans only eat salad, and open minds to the multitude of options people would hardly ever think of in terms of plant-based food. Falkenberg’s goal is to “make food that people can’t make at home,” in order for it to be worth the price of the non-GMO, organic ingredients, and to help people realize that vegan foods can be equally, or even more, delicious than a version containing animal products.
Nikki Green will be especially “more accommodating to people with allergies and food restrictions, who are gluten-free, people with an intolerance to oil, etc.” Within the vegan community, there is an overlap with people with intolerances to other things, which Falkenburg recognizes can be highly difficult to navigate. Regardless, she is working tenaciously to make the restaurant accommodating and accepting of their needs.
Falkenberg stresses the difference between organic and certified organic. A product can be labeled organic because it has as few as one organic ingredient. According to a survey she conducted, although some people ask whether what they’re buying is organic, no one asks whether it is certified organic. As a part of bridging the gap between what people will feed themselves and what is served in restaurants, the overwhelming majority will be certified organic so that Falkenberg herself would feel pride in eating her own food.
Falkenberg’s goal as business owner is to “make decisions so everyone’s happy.” These decisions are a process, one which she is interested to see grow and develop over the coming years. As owner of Nikki Green, Falkenberg says she is “working to make sure it’s as organic and as non-GMO as possible.”