by Anna Ervin
In the heart of OKC lies one of Oklahoma’s best kept secrets, that even in farmer’s country you can find a deep-seeded love for plant-based food. Guests often stumble upon The Loaded Bowl, located across the street from OKC’s Farmers & Antique Markets, expecting the type of establishment that most of our readers are familiar with. However, while the LB has certainly adopted a plant-medicine mindset, you won’t find flower or bongs here.
The Loaded Bowl, or LB for short, began serving plant-based dishes to the OKC community in 2013. Initially operating out of a food truck, Oklahoma’s first vegan food truck, they eventually set up a brick & mortar location in the heart of OKC.
Once the pandemic hit, LB’s business over went quite the transformation, so I decided to stop by and see how they have adapted.
Side note- this was not my first time visiting their location. I’ve been one of LB’s biggest fans since adopting a plant-based diet several years ago. I actually love their fresh-baked cake donuts so much that I once had my mom pick up an order before making a 10 hour drive to visit me while I lived out of state.
My favorite dish? The Mashed Potato Bowl (think KFC’s Famous bowl, only vegan… and better), but I like to change it up sometimes and order it with maple chili “lb chicken.” LB Chicken is a soy-based protein that takes on the flavor and texture of tender chicken strips. It’s obviously not chicken, but it might be better.
Business, Social Responsibility, and Mac n Cheese (not necessarily in that order)
General Manager, Kaitlyn Burton took time out of a busy Thursday to sit down with me and chat about business, social responsibility, and my favorite topic, mac and cheese. Kaitlyn has been working for the LB since 2016, around the time the company was laying out plans for their restaurant and bar.
“Tevin and Jon Grupe started the food truck back in 2013 with a very small menu of five items or so,” Kaitlyn informed me. “Everything has really evolved but the one thing that’s kind of been there from the beginning was the mac and cheese. The cheese sauce is something John, one of the owners, really dug into and perfected to make as delicious as possible.”
“It’s crazy the amount of specifics that went into it,” she continued, “and that go into it every time we make it, making sure it’s consistent throughout the years and that it has remained true to what it’s supposed to be.”
This is not news to me. I’ve been vegan for nearly 4 years, and in my pursuit to find the perfect cashew cheese recipe, I have all but given up hope that anything can compare to LB’s version. I wondered, is the perfect cashew cheese really the secret to turning one of OKC’s only vegan restaurants into a local hotspot? I had the feeling there was more to the story.
“I meet so many people,” I told Kaitlyn, “who are not vegan and have no interest in vegan food that somehow find their way here and end up loving your menu. Do you feel like there’s a secret to changing their hearts about eating more plants?”
“At the end of the day,” Kaitlyn responded, “the reason people want to eat at The Loaded Bowl is because the food tastes delicious. And who doesn’t love mac and cheese?”
“We aren’t necessarily preaching at them that this is vegan, or this is why its vegan,” she continued. “We will never guilt anyone for not being plant-based or eating whatever they want to eat. We just want everyone to make their own decision for their life and as long as they are doing what is best for them that is all that really matters. And as long as we keep making really good food, people will keep coming!”
My favorite rule to live by is “be the change you wish to see,” a sentiment derived from the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi. The Loaded Bowl, from the way I see it, is setting the bar honorably high when it comes to this, with ethical practices and efforts to give back to the community through charitable contributions.
Their mission? “To provide conscious comfort food™ in an accessible and affordable way,” but what does that look like amidst a global pandemic?
“We wanted make sure from the very beginning of it all that we were keeping our staff safe,” Kaitlyn said. “That we could be a place where our customers can trust that their food would be safe, and that they would be safe. We did close our doors for about 3 weeks. That gave us the opportunity to actually do some renovations in our building and do some really deep cleaning. We also had to restructure and rethink how we were going to move forward with the current safety regulations.”
“So, we have shifted our business model quite a bit. We now have a pickup window and are doing to-go service only. But at the heart of it, our goal has always been to keep our staff safe, keep our customers safe and just keep serving good food.”
I couldn’t help but think about all of the people out there upset about wearing a piece of fabric over their face, while this crew literally reorganized their entire business model to accommodate the public in the safest way possible, without a single complaint.
That’s when it clicked. While plant-based food might simply be a trend or phase for some, it’s a lifestyle at the Loaded Bowl. And as a lot of Oklahomans (including myself) are still struggling to find the right balance of sustainability, social responsibility, and sanity in their lives, LB is giving us the opportunity to enjoy a meal that doesn’t carry with the weight of the world’s burdens. They have taken all of the guesswork out of “being the change” for us, and through supporting their business, we might even find ourselves inspired to adopt a few of those changes in our own kitchens.
The Loaded Bowl is currently serving curbside and delivery only. Visit the www.theloadedbowlokc.com or check out their Instagram page (@theloadedbowlokc) for updates.