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A restaurant that guides you to joyfulness and the unexpected

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

By JAN WILLMS
One recent Sunday morning, it was a little chilly outside. Colin Anderson was doing prep work in his new restaurant, Eureka Compass Vegan Foods at 629 Aldine St.

“I had the ovens on, and it was kind of warm and cozy in here,” he said. “We were listening to music, and people were coming in and hanging out. I was getting a lot of work done.” Anderson said he asked himself why people were coming and staying around, in no hurry to leave. Then he said to himself, “Oh, I have a restaurant. This is what I want. I have actually created this nice space where people hang out and are having a good time. And I was tickled by it.”

Anderson, who opened his doors for business in May in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, said he wants to create more than a restaurant—he wants a space that will be a gathering place, where community members can get to know each other, and everyone will be welcome.

He grew up in a small community in Illinois called Richmond that had as its slogan “The Village of Yesteryear.” Anderson’s family operated a candy store that has been for the past 90 years and is still there today. “We weren’t much of a processed food kind of family,” he recalls. As a Boy Scout, he learned to cook, preparing food in relatively primitive conditions. In high school, he started working for Daylight Donuts, since his older brother was working in the candy shop. “I learned patience and some of the best practices of baking and running a kitchen at the donut shop,” Anderson remarked. Later, when his brother went off to college, and he worked at the candy store, he learned the science and chemistry of cooking. “I learned specifics and a lot about the importance of ingredients,” he said. “We bought cream for caramel from a local farmer and separated the cream from the milk ourselves. I could taste the difference between caramels made from cream the first day from caramel made with cream a few days old.”

He said that when he and his wife moved to the Hamline-Midway area, he found some of that same small-town quality he remembered from childhood in the metropolitan neighborhood.

Photo left: Colin Anderson, owner of Eureka Compass Vegan Foods, is proud to have “created this nice space where people hang out and are having a good time. And I was tickled by it.” (Photo by Jan Willms)

Before moving to St. Paul, the Andersons had lived on an organic farm, where he got into minimally processing food. “We let a tomato just be a tomato, and I discovered kohlrabi for the first time. It was a period of great personal poverty for me, a self-inflicted monastic existence. “We were eating a lot of raw food we had on the farm.”

Anderson said he became a vegetarian in 2000, following a time of “pretty bad health habits.” He said he was a cigarette smoker ate Taco Bell for 60 days in a row just to prove he could.

But as he adopted the vegetarian lifestyle, he enhanced his cooking style, creating dishes with what he had on hand. “Cooking has always been a passion of mine,’ Anderson said. About nine years ago he became vegan. While working in the food industry in St. Paul, he had an initial plan for creating vegan recipes that didn’t need a lot of investment and could be done in a small way.

“I wanted to make a good vegan croissant,” he explained. “We had been on the West Coast celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, and we went to a vegan restaurant owned by the performer Moby. We had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon meal, and we had a croissant there.”

In early March of this year, Anderson began exploring what his vegan creations might look like. He took a non-vegan recipe for croissants and fooled around with it. “I made enough dough so that any mistake I might make with the first batch could be fixed. The second batch was ideal. Croissants were something I just knew there would be a good response to.”

Anderson said he had pop-up croissant offerings, and realized he could make a good living just making the croissants at his home and selling them to various coffee shops around the cities. But then he discovered Eden’s Pizza on Aldine had some hours they were not using their establishment, and he talked to them about serving some vegan food at the Aldine location when they were closed. The pizza establishment agreed, and he was set to do that. But then Eden Pizza closed for business, and Anderson found the owner of the property to talk about setting up a vegan restaurant.

Photo right: Colin Anderson said it all started when he wanted to make a “good vegan croissant.” (Photo by Jan Willms)

Now he is serving ticketed dinners on Monday nights, offering lunches during the week, and having pizzas Sunday evenings. He lists the hours for the week on the restaurant’s Facebook page. He has launched a Kickstarter to help defray some of the expenses of opening the restaurant.

“I had confidence in myself I could pull it off,” he said. “I don’t have very many expectations except that I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to learn a lot, and I’m always going to be amazed and encouraged by the kindness and support of total strangers.”

Anderson said he offers a sober restaurant. “People have told me they have been uncomfortable with places serving wine and beer, and they feel welcome knowing they won’t have to sit down by some folks getting buzzed.”

Although the restaurant is not entirely gluten free, because there is still a lot of pizza dust remaining, it is peanut-free. Anderson wanted parents to come in and not have to worry if their child had a peanut allergy.

Since Anderson is owner, operator and sole employee of Eureka Compass Vegan Foods, he spends much of his time at the restaurant either serving meals or prepping for dinners. Although his Monday night dinners are fine dining, he does not consider his business to be a vegan fine-dining restaurant. “I would call it a counter-service restaurant,” he stated. He harkened back to little places where he has ventured. “There’s one guy cooking over a grill, and maybe eight seats. You could sit there, but for the most part, you took the food with you.”

Anderson said it is very nice when people sit down inside at Eureka Compass, but he finds it more rewarding to see people sitting outside. He said it shows that something is happening, people are gathering.

He noted that a lot of thought went into the naming of the restaurant. “It came from brainstorming words of deeper meaning,” he said. Anderson wanted to offer scratch prepared food, something in which the consumer would feel his care. “You would be in a space that is guiding you to something else; a space where everyone is welcome. So the compass becomes your guide, and it is the root word of compassion.” He said Eureka describes someone doing some work to find something, but when you have found it, there is an unexpectedness to it. And it is joyful.

Besides his croissants and scones and pizza, some of the dishes Anderson offers for his dinners include raw melon and peach salad, okra gumbo, herbed dropped biscuits with white bean gravy and peach and mint cobbler. Those were some of the foods he planned for his last ticketed dinner on July 10. And they will never be served again. No matter how good it tastes, Anderson never makes the same dish twice.

“This is an experience-based restaurant,” he said with a smile. “You have to be adventurous.”

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