Nature’s Kitchen Radiates Health and Charm
“We specialize in eccentric customers,” Flannery stated matter-of-factly, with a wide, red-lipsticked smile.
In “The Golden City” of Yreka, Nature’s Kitchen sparkles. The establishment has been feeding a culture of organic food lovers and supporting the community’s health and wellness since 1979. These forty-one years, Nature’s Kitchen has been located on busy Main Street, in a classic, yet unassuming storefront. Striped blue and white awnings cap its windows along the red Bottling Works mall building, which used to be a Coca-Cola bottling facility. A green and white sign hangs out front, announcing Nature’s Kitchen. It’s a welcoming exterior, but it doesn’t prepare you for what’s in store once you enter. As with a geode, the interior bedazzles and the atmosphere charms.
FOOD, PHARMACY, GIFTS
Nature’s Kitchen is part organic restaurant, part herbal pharmacy, and part curiosity shop where you can find the perfect unique gift. Heart-shaped leaves of lanky-armed philodendrons and colorful knit socks fly overhead, while below, customers dine on homemade veggie burgers. Rainbows project through the window from the prisms of dozens of displayed stained-glass designs, feathers, hearts, peace signs, sunflowers, and kaleidoscopic mandalas. On a counter, tantalizing baked goods perch on plates, a brief display until customers buy them and they’re bagged up. Eclectic jewelry sparkles, children’s clothes delight, aromatherapy soothes, local honey glows, and beautifully illustrated cards declare the perfect sentiment.
In the apothecary, large glass jars offer bulk spices and herbs, and supplements, tinctures, homeopathic remedies, and vitamins fill the shelves. A corona of saints, an altar ringing I’ve been making bread,” Rajiv stated. “We get our wheat from Running Rabbit Mills in Fort Jones. The grower Dave really respects his product and treats it accordingly. He grows only eight acres of wheat a year.” Rajiv retired from the business for the final time twelve years ago at seventy years old, but still comes in every Sunday to bake bread for the week.
As with a geode, the interior of Nature’s Kitchen bedazzles and the atmosphere charms.
The kitchen prepares wonderful meals: comforting soups and casseroles, heaping salads with delicious house-made dressings, sandwiches, wraps. Originally all vegetarian, the menu now includes organic chicken and sustainably caught tuna and salmon options. Cliff’s seasonally inspired quiche is an anchor to the menu, feeding customers from breakfast through lunch. Fridays are famous for clam chowder and chili relleno casserole. Cliff makes comforting wholesome food with precision and a whole lot of love. However, it’s the staff that Cliff has the most pride in.
In the small town of Yreka, they’ve hired a lot of high school students throughout the years. “I’m really proud of our current staff. They’re the best crew I’ve worked with,” stated Cliff. “The kitchen right now is really young. One of our main cooks is seventeen years old. They’re so supportive of each other and have wonderful attitudes. They’re all learning a lot of technique and really absorbing what it is to cook from scratch.” He describes how when they’re done making a dish, for example, a soup, everyone gets a taste. They then decide the final seasoning. He’s so impressed that they can pick out what’s missing, something as finite as white pepper or various herbs. Truly humbled, Cliff continued, “It’s wonderful working with these young people. They’ve done it!”
Out on the floor, Flannery and Patty float from table to table, carried by their buoyant pleasantries and weightless smiles. Making the dance look effortless, they take orders, refill waters, deliver colorful plates of hardy food, operate the pay counter, and still have time to ask about your day.
“I’m currently using the best flour I’ve ever used in the fifty years I’ve been making bread,” Rajiv stated. “We get our wheat from Running Rabbit Mills in Fort Jones. The grower Dave really respects his product and treats it accordingly. He grows only eight acres of wheat a year.”
Nature’s Kitchen has a second part, which also focuses on health and wellness. In the world of online shopping, it is wonderful to shop locally and to get tailored personal advice regarding ailments. This detail is not lost on regulars who buy their monthly supplies of supplements and vitamins here. Behind the counter is Michael, who has thirty years of experience in the business. A gentle tall presence, he always knows the answers and confidently plays matchmaker with you and the supplement identified as the missing link. He takes pride in the way Nature’s Kitchen vets each brand for quality and purity. The service and experience here cannot be replaced by clicking buttons on the internet.
Nature’s Kitchen’s steadfast customers extend way beyond Yreka, due to their presence on Yelp and Trip Advisor. People have made Nature’s Kitchen a traditional stop along I-5, and they’ve shared their discovery with others. “We specialize in eccentric customers,” Flannery stated matter-of-factly, with a wide, red-lipsticked smile. For example, once they were all so distracted by the wild psychedelic bus out front that they around the walls, looks down and blesses the community of Nature’s Kitchen customers: honored entities Gandhi, Mrs. Mabel (owners Flannery and Patty’s mother), Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, Guru G (former owner Rajiv’s guru), and many more. “When people come in, we want them to feel like they’ve come into our home. We hope we become their family,” says Patty, who owns and operates Nature’s Kitchen along with her sister Flannery and Flannery’s husband Cliff.
Nature’s Kitchen got its start mainly as a wholesale bakery, the first organic whole grain, honey-sweetened, bakery on the west coast. The restaurant was vegetarian and rebelliously non-smoking. Bread, cookies, and bars were sold wholesale to distributers and co-ops in southern Oregon and northern California. Rajiv and Marianne Hotek were the young entrepreneurs of this budding business. In previous chapters of their lives they were teachers, globetrotters, and self-proclaimed hippies. Rajiv started making bread at the shop for his guru, and then he soon produced six to eight twenty-loaf batches of bread each day. In the restaurant, they wanted to offer something that wasn’t expensive, where anyone could come off the street and get something to eat. A cup of soup and a roll cost a dollar.
From the start, Nature’s Kitchen was created as a space that honors the earth and celebrates nature through its baked goods and menu items. A loyal customer base soon followed, despite the place’s unconventional ways in the conservative town of Yreka. One of these customers was a young Flannery. His eyes twinkling behind circular glasses, Rajiv remembers first meeting Flannery and her friend. They were at the “two-top” table by the window. She had biked to the restaurant in high heels, her Pomeranian dog Sheba trotting alongside. He pulled up a chair next to them and remarked, “I have to know where you ladies are from.” Flannery projected her effervescent giggle. “I was born right here in Yreka.” Rajiv thought back on her comment. “I didn’t believe them,” he laughed. Their friendship grew from that first encounter.
“When people come in, we want them to feel like they’ve come into our home. We hope we become their family,” says Patty.
Rajiv and Marianne sold Nature’s Kitchen in 1992. Four years later it was back on the market. That’s when Patty, Flannery, Cliff, and Rajiv decided to buy it back, and they all went into business together. “We did all the things they say you shouldn’t do, going into business with family and friends,” Patty says. “99% of the time it’s idyllic; the other 1% we’re pulling our hair.”
When Patty and Flannery first entertained the thought of owning Nature’s Kitchen, they knew they could pull from their years of experience working in restaurants and waitressing. Cliff was seasoned in the kitchen as well, having apprenticed with a pastry chef in France and run a successful restaurant in Mexico. And Rajiv held the signature bread recipe. After all the years, it’s still the same honeysweetened, whole grain recipe. Except for a few years when it wasn’t available, the wheat has always been sourced from neighboring Scott Valley. “I’m currently using the best flour I’ve ever used the fifty years didn’t realize Ken Kesey and Wavy Gravy had walked in behind them. Or the time three Greek Orthodox nuns, in black habits, and three nuns from Africa, in white habits, happened upon each other. “Those six nuns in opposing patterns just looked at each other and started cracking up,” remembered Flannery. “Those things can’t happen anywhere on earth, but they happen here!” she concluded.
Nature’s Kitchen keeps reinventing, yet keeps an authentic hold into their eclectic, nature centric brand. They’re in the works to launch a website and are dipping a toe into social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Always at the pulse of all things health, they host the local Grub Club every Thursday, a food buying club that supports local food producers. And on Wednesdays they offer up a breakfast of Paleo Pancakes, gluten free flap jacks made with almond flour.
This gem, tucked away in plain sight at 412 Main Street in Yreka, has many sparkling facets. Bring your eccentric self down to Nature’s Kitchen and see for yourself.
Kate O’Brien-Mann fills most of her days with the tasks of running a farming business. When she’s not in the fields, she finds time for hiking, music concerts, gatherings with friends and is training for her first marathon, along with her husband, the date of which is on their first wedding anniversary. This is the first of a four-part series in which she brings readers through four seasons on her farm in Grenada, in Siskiyou County. homewardbountyfarm.com