Not to overplay the whole thing with Seeds, which states in its voicemail greeting that it's "changing the world we live in," but there's a very tangible, I don't know, lightness of spirit among the volunteers we encountered over two lunches at the downtown café.
It's there among the employees, too, but there's only three of those, including founder and chef Lyn Harwell, a local nonprofit stalwart and Culinary Institute of America graduate. But it's those volunteers, 12 to 14 a day, who exude a sort of evangelistic joy.
"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to that at the end of my shift," one guy told me after I ordered a burger made with bleu cheese, avocado and beef from Ranch Foods Direct. Cut open, it beamed a beautiful, light pink smile; with a similar glow, a woman busing the table next to mine told me: "We're all learning, but everybody's so nice and thankful and willing to help."
The ABC Burger was 10 bucks, because right now the suggested donation on all entrées is 10 bucks ($3 for pastries). You can pay more, though — manager Ami Heath estimates the average donation for a meal is around $19, the balance "paid forward," with 50 to 80 people dining a day. Or you can pay less. Or you can pay nothing and do an hour on the line in the kitchen, or clean up the dining room, or knock out some dishes. A fresh soup or salad, plus drink, is included, and while portion sizes are small, each includes seconds (including the full-sized burger), which people rarely order.
The quality is right, too — dig the self-serve Kangen water, stevia packets and mud from Colorado Coffee Merchants — especially for a joint I figured would look more like a soup kitchen than a sharp downtown café. Located down that hallway next to Josh & John's, the dining room is a neutral cream with grass-green accents, but it's the music that really brings the feels. From "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" to "Signs" to "Eve of Destruction" to "War" — good God, y'all — flower power took a seat at our table and never left.
You might not want to either, especially if you're sensitive to wheat: Starting next week, Heath says all menu items will be gluten-free. But they were already the majority when we came, where a vegan, gluten-free piece of cherry pie offered fat, tart globules and a sugary crust I could almost swear was the real thing. Burger buns and the crust on long sticks of mushroom pizza also represented themselves well.
On the other hand, a gluten-free beef stroganoff in need of salt offered tender beef cubes as sumptuous as the house-made pasta was mushy and slick; likewise, a turkey Reuben brought juicy, shredded meat but a weird, whole-grain bread that only seemed to remember being toasted.
There's lots of mid-range food made from locally grown ingredients that doesn't sit heavily in your stomach, though: the Stone Soup, a buttery, broccoli-cream soup kicked up Thai-style with coconut milk (that could likewise use a dash of salt); a juicy grilled sausage on top of overcooked sauerkraut and onions; or the Colorado Calabacitas, a smoky Southwestern bite of squash, zucchini, garlic, corn, green chili and chicken that someone made with a heavy hand on the cumin bottle. OK-ish gluten-free tortilla, too.
But all that is almost beside the point. This here operation is about love: "We're bridging a gap," says Heath, "and filling a huge need downtown."