NBA Champ John Salley Is on a Plant-Based Mission in L.A.’s Inland Empire
When Terrance and Shiloh Thibodeaux met former Los Angeles Laker John Salley at an awards show, they bonded over a shared passion for cannabis, food justice in communities of color, and veganism. For the Thibodeauxs, it was a struggle to eat healthy in their San Bernardino hometown. "We would have to drive an hour into L.A. just to find healthy food options," recalls Shiloh, who, along with her husband, has been plant-based for more than a decade. Rather than complain about it, they set out to be the change they wanted to see.
In 2016, they opened a CBD and smoothie shop in San Bernardino called Plant Organix. It became so popular, they soon outgrew the space. Last January, when a larger store nearby became available, they jumped at the chance to expand and decided to ask Salley if he'd be interested in partnering with them on a new café. The 6'11, four-time NBA champion has won championships with the Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, and the Detroit Pistons. He had become vegan during his NBA days and was interested in spreading the plant-based gospel and helping to end food deserts in Black and Brown communities. Before he agreed there was one caveat: The menu had to be 100 percent plant-based. While the Thibodeauxs' original vision was to offer some non-vegan options, they agreed to Salley's request.
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As luck would have it, Café Organix is located near Loma Linda, a community that is one of five of the world's Blue Zones, meaning a high number of people there live much longer than average. This is due to Loma Linda's large population of Seventh-day Adventists, who are known advocates of vegetarianism. "Since we are in a Blue Zone, it only made sense that we have green food," Salley told the socially distanced crowd at Café Organix's grand opening in June.
So, what was it like to open a new restaurant three months into a global pandemic? "To be honest, it was scary," Shiloh says. "But in a strange way, it was also perfect timing." Terrance agrees. "As people were forced to stay indoors and try to stay healthy, they cared more about what they were putting in their bodies."
The first few months, the line was out the door for the fresh pressed juices and immune-boosting smoothies. They also got a boost from a steady delivery business. "Our customers are doctors, nurses, business folk, vegans, non-vegans, the curious, and people who just wanted to try something new and support a Black-owned business," Shiloh says. The café's affordable prices, vibe, outdoor seating, and friendly staff make it an appealing place to grab a healthy bite.
The Café Organix breakfast menu features triple-filtered coffee, espresso drinks, cold-pressed juices, smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toasts, and vegan pastries. A favorite item is the American Woman Cheeseburger, a quarter pound Beyond patty topped with vegan sharp cheddar cheeze, red onion, beefsteak tomato, Kosher pickle, romaine lettuce, house-made chipotle aioli, and ranch on a toasted brioche bun. There's also the Hot Damn Burger, a toasted brioche bun slathered with caramelized onion jam and garlic aioli topped with a quarter pound Beyond patty, mozzarella cheeze, roasted serrano peppers, crispy onions, and baby greens. The Vegan Cajun Shrimp Po Boy is made with monk fruit seasoned with Salley's signature spice blend and grilled to perfection in a warmed banh mi roll. Café Organix's Jamaica and Lavender lemonades are perfect to quench your thirst, and the affogato, with vegan vanilla ice cream and espresso, goes well with their fresh-baked vegan double chocolate brownie, churro plantains and the cupcakes and cookies.
Café Organix also sells tea blends, candles, snacks, and art by local artists. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, they plan to have live music, painting parties, and yoga classes. They're also developing a line of pre-packaged frozen meals that will be available for pickup at the café. "Everyone has to eat. Healthy vegan cuisine should be available, no matter one's financial situation or the neighborhood they live in," Terrance says. "We're here to prove that just because it's plant-based doesn't mean it can't taste good."