Thrive Diner: Come in for the buffalo cauliflower, stay for the dessert
Vegan diner celebrates 1 year in business, looks to entice new customers in second year
PITTSFIELD — If you've heard about the buffalo cauliflower with blue cheese dip at Thrive Diner, you're not alone.
"People are nuts about it," said diner owner and head chef Shari Peltier of the hottest item on her vegan, vegetarian menu. "People just love that stuff; it's super crunchy and gluten free."
And, if you haven't heard about the popular appetizer, or the Wahconah Street establishment that recently celebrated a year in business on Jan. 2, you are, unfortunately, not alone, either.
"People are coming from all over to come here," Peltier said of the diner that once housed the former Adrien's Diner until she bought the building in April 2018. "The majority of customers have been visitors to the area. That surprises me; I thought more local people would be coming here. Almost every week someone new comes in here and I always do the tester to see: 'Are you local or just passing through?' Sometimes, they are local, and I say, 'What took you so long?' and they say, 'I just found out about you!' It's so surprising to me that people don't know I'm here yet."
But, Peltier is quick to point out, once they stop in, customers are usually hooked.
In an age where food allergies, sensitives and tastes are constantly changing, the mother of two — who jokes that she once had a private restaurant at home for 20 years then the "customers" left — has filled a niche in the community. Her menu plays on classic diner themes — melts, wraps, pasta, burgers and sandwiches — but miraculously does it without dairy or meat. There are things you expect to see at a vegan restaurant — 30 ounce Buddha Bowls packed with greens, grains and vegetables — but her homemade salad dressings, including cayenne fig and lemon garlic, give them a new twist, she said. Thrive Diner also offers Beyond Meat products, including a Beyond Burger ($14) and a Beyond Sausage Sub with sauteed peppers and onions on a pretzel roll ($13) — with a gluten-free roll option, of course.
Peltier, who isn't vegan or vegetarian herself, said she has many friends who are vegan, and her daughter is vegetarian, so she knows how challenging it can be for some to dine out.
"I think about some of my favorite foods and then how do I make a gluten-free version, or dairy-free version of some of the most sought after foods that once you can't eat dairy or gluten anymore you can't find? That's what I zero in on," she said.
Vegan cheeses, marinated tofu and a variety of vegetables are all tricks of the dietary trade used at the diner, but for Peltier, coconut cream is the secret to most of her vegan success.
"You can do so many amazing things with it," she said. "It's so versatile; I use it for dessert, soups anything I need to water down."
Wait, desserts? Yes, Peltier also manages to create a rotating menu of three to four dessert options a week, including a gluten-free chocolate lava cake, vegan lemon bars and a vegan maple cream cheese parfait with maple tofu.
"People who are lactose intolerant are so excited to be able to have [these desserts]," she said.
But what about diners who aren't crazy about the idea of a dairy-free, meat-free menu? (You know, those three-meat-filled-meals a day folks.)
Peltier advises those customers who want to try the food, but their spouses may not, to order takeout from the diner and then bring it home. Once they try it and like it, then tell them where it's from and bring them in.
"For people who think it's not for them, the menu is so interesting and diverse; it's nothing like they've had anywhere," she said.
The eight-table diner, with stools along the old-fashioned diner bar, reflects Peltier's vibrant, creative energy, with a cheerful teal color palate that goes from the window decals, to the floors and right down to the vinyl-covered booths. Currently, the Lenox-resident employees five people, including her daughter who will be going back to college soon. In her second year of business, Peltier hopes to carve out more time for herself beyond her countless duties at the restaurant. Her other goal for 2020, she said, is to get more locals in the seats.
"My goal is to get more well known in Berkshire County this year," she said. "It's funny there are people who still don't know we exist over here."
Perhaps, her addition of more Buffalo Cauliflower will do the trick — the menu will soon include the addictive Buffalo Wing twist on sandwiches, wraps, salad bowls and over mac and cheese, with extra hot sauce.
"We're going every direction with it," said Peltier, who admits with a laugh she's "over" the diner staple because she ate so much of it. "How many ways can we make buffalo cauliflower? But people are like, 'Yes! I want it every way you make it.'"
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