Dan and Michelle Landes, owners of WaterCourse Foods, describe their story on their website as "one of perseverance and patience." Flexibility has helped, too—when Dan was about to unlock the front door on opening day and Michelle saw that they’d forgotten to stock the register with money, she bolted home to empty their change jar.
Flexibility marks the kitchen as well, which aims to fill plates with so much homey flavor that even carnivores don’t notice there’s no room left for meat. The chefs accomplish this by way of boldly seasoned veggies such as sweet potatoes, smoky mushrooms, and fire-roasted corn, which star in some dishes and serve as accents to proteins including grilled tempeh and country-fried seitan in others. The sense of reveling in the earth’s bounty spills from the plates onto the dining-room walls, decorated with delicate murals of animals and woodland scenes that resemble the results of a collaboration between John James Audubon and Beatrix Potter.
In its journey from lunch-and-breakfast spot to full-blown restaurant complete with bakery and bar, WaterCourse Foods has won acclaim both locally as a neighborhood favorite and nationally as a must-see for vegetarian travelers passing through town. Fodor’s called the portobello Reuben and seitan-based buffalo wings “amazing,” and Westword named WaterCourse 2012’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant while noting that it still hasn’t reached its peak—the place “just keeps getting better” while it “caters to any palate.”
For WaterCourse Foods, resourcefulness means finding new ways to serve not only diners but also the environment. Old fryer oil is shipped off to be converted into biodiesel, to-go dishes come in biodegradable containers, and diners who roll up on bikes or drift in effortlessly on gusts of wind get a 10% discount. Practicing what they preach beyond the restaurant, the Landes family supports local and international causes through programs such as Nonprofit Mondays, giving up to 15% of their Monday sales to select organizations. When they leave work each evening, they go home to their urban organic permaculture farm, run largely on solar power.