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Plates of Fate: Karma Road Turns 10

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Jenn and Seth Branitz with Oliver and Georgia outside Karma Road in New Paltz. - FRANCO VOGT
  • Franco Vogt
  • Jenn and Seth Branitz with Oliver and Georgia outside Karma Road in New Paltz.

In 2006, two vegan chefs left Long Island with the idea of bringing healthy food to a new community. Seth and Jenn Branitz created Karma Road, a vegan cafe, and this year they celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Before Karma Road, there was Jandi's, a health food store in Oceanside where Jenn and Seth worked from 1994 through 2006. Jenn was a pioneer there, playing a large role in expanding the store's small juice bar into the largest vegetarian kitchen on Long Island. The lead cook left, and Jenn became the new chef. Taking a two-thirds cut in his paycheck at a job doing kitchen prep work, Seth decided to help her out and join the team. It was there that their love of plant-based food flourished. Raw foods, wheat grass, juicing, fasting, cleansing—Jandi's provided the knowledge that Jenn and Seth yearned for during their own transition into vegetarianism.

After they had kids, Jenn and Seth decided to relocate. Their search for proximity to the greater New York area combined with a desire for beautiful natural surroundings and a community that would support their talents landed them in Woodstock, but three separate business deals fell through there. They also gave up on a plan to build a vegan bed and breakfast on the property of the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, which was just getting started at the time. They ultimately purchased an ice cream parlor in New Paltz and converted it into Karma Road.

Blackened tofu, garlic broccolini, and a mixed veggie slaw with a carrot apple ginger juice - FRANCO VOGT
  • Franco Vogt
  • Blackened tofu, garlic broccolini, and a mixed veggie slaw with a carrot apple ginger juice

The current Karma Road menu features items ranging from freshly made juices and smoothies, chocolate chip blueberry muffins and thumbprint cookies, curries and stews, sandwiches, wraps, breakfast burritos, and sweet potato biscuits. To view other menu items, visit Karmaroad.net. Karma Road is located at 11 Main Street in New Paltz and is open seven days a week.

Where does the name Karma Road come from?

Seth: I'm a songwriter, and a friend and I started a small record label and called it Karma Road Records. Since nothing came of it, I ran the name by Jenn, and she liked it. When I asked my friend, he also liked the idea. We feel like it represents an understanding that our choices—food and otherwise—secure our place on a path with immediate results.

When did you open?

Seth: We moved here on December 27, 2006, got the kids set up with day care, renovated the space, hired and trained a staff, got our permits and insurance, and opened the shop on February 22, 2007. It was interesting because we had to train a staff of people who had never worked here before, and we had never worked here before. So we kind of made it all up, and everybody came in here and just winged it. Instantly, people liked it, and the neighborhood liked it.

So what is your background with food?

Seth: I started working in a Jewish bakery when I was 15, and I worked there for five years. I was a bagel baker, and then I almost bought a cheese shop on the North Shore [of Long Island]. Then I started working with Jenn to help out temporarily. That was 25 years ago. I also interned at a couple of restaurants in Manhattan, including Quintessence, which is a raw food restaurant, and also at Angelica Kitchen. It was a seminal, world-famous vegan restaurant in the East Village that was there for 40 years or so, and they just closed due to obscene rent increases. They were paying $23,000 a month, and so they closed, which is very sad—we made a lot of good friends there. Karma Road is a combination of the best of both of those experiences—Jandi's, Angelica, and more.

Jenn: After running the kitchen at Jandi's for a couple of years, I went to the Natural Gourmet Cooking Institute in Manhattan. I learned a lot there and met some wonderful chefs. That led to a position as the specials chef at Angelica Kitchen and to helping facilitate their cooking classes. I was also a private chef, a caterer, had a vegan home delivery service, and co-taught a very popular series of cooking classes. 

Seth: It's kind of a dead end, if you're a chef, if you want to do anything different, you don't have a whole lot of freedom, and we figured if we were going to work that hard, then we should do it for ourselves. We didn't want to live on Long Island. We didn't want to compete with Jandi's. We couldn't consider Manhattan. We just started thinking: Where could we go that's really beautiful, where they could use us, and where we could still drive back because we've got family there? We were enchanted by Woodstock, but New Paltz really turned out to be home.

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