Vortex: a gathering place to eat local food

We can eat fresh, local, seasonal meals by buying food from Lopez farmers and spending some time in the kitchen. Or, when we need a break from shopping and cooking, and maybe some inspiration from another cook, we can go to Vortex.

Vortex, Jean Perry’s juice bar and café in Lopez Village, offers fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, wraps, soups, salads, and their signature hummus and salsas. All are made from scratch using as many organic, seasonal, locally grown ingredients as possible and served from 10:00 until 6:00 at the counter for take-out or at the welcoming tables that surround her central, open kitchen.

Jean and I sat at one of these tables in the late afternoon recently, and Jean told me why she started Vortex 12 years ago and what inspires her to keep going.

“My idea from the start was to provide people with a gathering place,” she said. “I was trying to create a place for people to meet and feel welcome. This social sustenance was as important to me as the food.” She chose the name Vortex because the word suggests drawing together, a centripetal force that’s the opposite of the juicer’s centrifugal force. “The name still works for me,” she said, laughing, “but I hope it doesn’t put people off!”

Another of her goals was “to serve anybody who walked in with something nutritious, satisfying, and delicious. The idea was to start with simple, unprocessed ingredients, almost entirely organic, and lots of locally grown produce. The menu is designed so that there are a lot of choices for mixing and matching. And we can serve people with any kind of food allergy or restrictions.”

Her welcoming space and flexible menu inspire her work, but so do the local vegetables she uses and the farmers who supply them.

“It’s just a pleasure to use local food,” she said. “It has so much more character. We have a beautiful red cabbage in the fridge right now that’s in the shape of a heart. You don’t get that with commercial vegetables.”

“I also enjoy interacting with the farmers themselves. Having them pull something out of the ground in the morning and bring it to us in the afternoon makes me viscerally happy. We just got those beets and potatoes today. You can feel the earth on them still.”

Crowfoot, Fieldstone, Horse Drawn, Jones Family and T & D Farms, Lopez Harvest, individual growers, even home gardeners with extra produce to sell are all part of the network that supplies Jean’s Vortex kitchen. “I really enjoy buying from as many people as I can.”

One more thing that keeps Vortex going is new customers. “I think that the emphasis on real, honest to goodness local fresh food at Lopez School has really helped bring kids in here. They come and bring their friends.” And recently her staff was delighted to overhear an older couple say as they looked in the window and saw some of their friends: “Well if they eat here we can too.” Jean hopes that everyone in our community feels welcome at Vortex.

If you haven’t eaten at Vortex yet, check it out! With its new orange paint and green trim, the building stands out against our gray winter sky. Inside, you’ll find families and kids, singles and seniors, all eating handmade food that celebrates local, seasonal ingredients. Then, inspired by your delicious meal, you can make a shopping list for locally grown food and try the same thing at home.

Vortex winter hours: Mon-Sat, 10-6. Phone 468-4740 to order take out or to arrange catering.