BURNSVILLE — Eating out at a restaurant can be challenging or sometimes impossible when someone in your family follows a restricted diet.
Maria Adrian, head chef at Olivia’s Organic Cafe in Burnsville, remembers the frustration, arguments and tears her family faced seven years ago as they adjusted to her mom and sister’s gluten-free and dairy-free diet brought on by health challenges.
“We just wanted to create a place close to home, in our neighborhood, serving our community,” Adrian said about the cafe, which serves an entirely gluten-free, dairy-free and peanut-free menu with organic, local food.
The restaurant opened this fall at the northwest corner of Highway 13 and Cliff Road in Burnsville.
“You see families coming in who don’t know anything about gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, whatever — but they are just coming in for brunch because it’s warm and welcoming,” she said. “We wanted a place with something for everybody on the menu.”
Though items are gluten- and dairy-free by default, customers can specialize orders with a slice of cheese on the burger or a splash of cream in the coffee.
Adrian said she hopes to offer something for everyone — the family member with Celiac’s Disease, the vegan and the grandpa who just wants eggs and sausage. She plans to expand dinner options, add more happy-hour fried food and start hosting live music in the evenings.
Adrian’s mom, Melanie Vejdani, owns the restaurant and also runs an event and catering business.
“She always has ideas coming to her, but there was something really magnetic about this one that felt really right for our family,” Adrian said.
So they took the leap and transformed the old Steffano’s Restaurant & Pizzeria into a breezy, Hamptons-inspired cafe.
Adrian, a self-described culinary hobbyist, hasn’t received formal training as a chef. She said her professional background in music taught her the value of passion and time, and cooking at home and alongside catering chefs gave her experience.
“I consider food an art form just as I consider music an art form,” she said.
She’s still learning to navigate the organic local food system and sourcing seasonal foods. The work limits the restaurant’s hours to the weekend, but Adrian said their mission is worth it.
Healing for the family
Complications during Vejdani’s pregnancy with her second daughter, Olivia, left both mother and child with a compromised immune system, asthma, allergies and digestive issues.
“My mom is such a firecracker, and her illness kept her bedridden,” Adrian, who was 11 years old when Olivia was born, remembers.
After 12 years, Vejdani and Olivia began adhering to a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, but the changes put a strain on the family and ended longstanding family traditions, such as eating Mother’s Day brunch at a cafe in Minneapolis.
Holiday celebrations are sometimes the only meals shared with extended family, Adrian said, which makes it especially hard for those with health restrictions to partake in family time.
“It’s a serious divide,” she said. “Years of that going on can cause a lot of trauma.”
Olivia’s Organic Cafe is a place where being different is normal and celebrated, the menu states.
Adrian and her father, Abbas, are the cooks in family. “He’s always been able to make vegetables taste delicious,” she said of his Iranian influence in the kitchen.
It was a journey for both of them to craft great meals that worked for everyone. They started with their family tradition, brunch. Mastering the recipes and sharing them in a restaurant has helped bring the family together, Adrian said.