Just because Kendall Harris and Jordan Williams are vegans doesn’t mean they can’t have fun with their food. If anything, their vegan diets have inspired the business partners to get creative with their meals — and, in turn, with the menu at their restaurant, the Happy Apple Cafe.
Opened in September on 55th Street and Troost Avenue, this cozy eatery boasts a scratch kitchen that cooks based on the weather, and it also happens to offer a menu that is entirely plant-based. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be staring at a salad bar.
“Our Happy Apple philosophy is to show that you can do a plant-based diet and still have fun with what you eat,” Williams says. “It doesn’t have to be just nuts and berries and kale.”
Take, for example, the burnt end sandwich special they had a few weeks back. No pork was harmed in the creation of this dish; Harris and Williams used seitan, a wheat-based protein, to make their mock burnt ends and slathered them in a house-made barbecue. Seitan is similar in look and texture to meat when cooked, and it is the primary protein at the Happy Apple Cafe, along with beans and chickpeas. (Harris and Williams don’t use any tofu or soy-based products.) Other lunch items — a “chicken” sandwich, a black bean burger — are designed to have mass appeal.
But it’s the dinner menu where Harris and Williams really get to have their fun: It’s concept-based and rotates at least every month. Recently, dinner at Happy Apple was chicken-and-waffle themed, featuring the popular “waffle-wich” — a chicken (seitan) sandwich with waffles subbed for the bun. In December, the dinner menu reinvented classic American comfort food with a vegan mac-and-cheeseburger, vegan mac ‘n’ cheese bites and more.
Harris and Williams are also dedicated to making their healthy plant-based menu accessible: Nothing on the lunch menu is over $10, and nothing on the dinner menu is over $15.
Additionally, Happy Apple Cafe offers a pay-what-you-can smoothie program to accommodate anyone who needs a filling meal but doesn’t have a lot of cash to spare.
There’s an interesting customer mix at the Happy Apple: Most of the daily regulars are from the neighborhood, and they’re not necessarily people who adhere to plant-based diets – they’re just people who like good food. Thanks to a recent nod from PETA, Happy Apple also sees its fair share of out-of-town diners who are looking for vegan restaurant options.
For the most part, Harris says business has been good — especially considering Kansas City’s reputation as a meat lover’s BBQ town. One of Happy Apple’s biggest struggles hasn’t been in the food it serves, but rather the hours it keeps. Harris and Williams are the only two people on staff, and they run the kitchen and wait tables by themselves.
“We’re small business owners,” Harris says. “People get upset if one of us is sick and we have to close, but it’s just two of us. I just want people to understand that it’s OK if you don’t make it to us one day — we’ll be here another, ready to serve you up something delicious.”