New Westminster's Karmavore switches directions

Stefania Butkovic, manager of Karmavore vegan café on Columbia Street bites into a jumbo peanut butter cup. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Stefania Butkovic, manager of Karmavore vegan café on Columbia Street bites into a jumbo peanut butter cup.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

What some might have termed Mission Impossible became Mission Accomplished. That has meant Mission Adjusted for Karmavore.

The vegan store started out four years ago, first of all in Sapperton and then moving to Columbia Street, to bring products made without any contribution from animals. Along with groceries it carried clothing, cosmetics, and candles that couldn’t be found anywhere else on the Lower Mainland.

The trailblazers, led by owner Salim Jamal, had their doubters, but the demand for the products they were providing grew to the point where they could be found in regular grocery stores and other specialty shops including a vegan shoe store in Vancouver.

“They’re taken care of. I call it mission accomplished. Those things are readily available in mainstream stores, so businesses have to evolve or close,” said Jamal.

Although the retail was not becoming sustainable, what was popular was the baking. In February, Karmavore added a café and dessert lounge to the store, and now it has phased out its retail side to become a vegan eatery.

“You’ve got to see the light when you see it,” said Jamal.

He said one of Karmavore’s best assets was having talented vegan baker Ashley McLean on staff. “Her desserts are phenomenal.”

Now the deli case, which used to be downstairs in the grocery area, is on the top floor full of sweets like tiramisu, lemon meringue pie, maple walnut cake, cherry cupcake, s’mores cookies, white truffle paté, smoked jalapeno cheddar cashew cheese, vegan meatloaf and their best seller, peanut butter bars.

The downstairs has been closed off to become an expanded kitchen that whips up vegan versions of burgers, wraps, soups, and salads.

“We’ve changed in a fairly dramatic way,” said manager Stefania Butkovic. “They wanted more cake so we gave them more space for cake.”

Butkovic says a lot of passersby come in when they see the desserts in the deli display, not even realizing they’re actually dairy free when they buy them. They’ve also got a product that allows them to produce smoothies, shakes and soft-serve ice cream, something that’s pretty popular this time of the year.

In addition to the changes on Columbia, Karmavore has just opened an organic juice bar, Tiny Karmavore, in the River Market. Along with the several intriguing juice combinations it will also serve up a selection of the salads, wraps and baked goods made on Columbia.

Tiny Karmavore is being sponsored by The Salient Group. Jamal said Karmavore would give it a three-month window to test out the demand.

• The café and dessert lounge, 610 Columbia St., will be open daily from noon to 3 p.m., and 5 to 9 p.m. The juice bar’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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