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New N. Main restaurant to feed the mind, body and soul of the community

Rare Variety Cafe on North Main in Columbia is part of a plan to bring fresh, healthy food to an underserved community.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) — Bonita Clemons has a plan to better serve her North Main community -- to make it a healthier place to live. Rare Variety Cafe, where she works and is owned by Keith Alexander, is one part of her holistic approach to improve the mind, body, and soul of the surrounding area.

"Eventually," she says, "there's going to be a food hub."

Referencing the building at 4622 N. Main St., Clemons breaks it down this way:

+ At one end of the three-storefront building, the cafe will be serving vegan food to the community. There's a space for outdoor dining, and comfortable seating indoors to invite customers to sit and relax and engage with others. In an enclosed space out back, there will be a raised bed garden where children can come and learn how to grow fruits and vegetables.

+ At the other end, there will be a small grocery store featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, and other staples such as milk, cheese and eggs. "We're going to make sure everything is top quality," she says. The grocery store, an effort to fill the gap of the recently closed Bi-Lo/Harvey's and the Piggly Wiggly on Beltline, is planned for early 2019.

+ The space in between will be a gathering spot for the community where Clemons and others will host an array of classes for youth and adults. The classes will range from cooking skills and nutrition to literacy, yoga, and whole body health. Art classes will be taught by Columbia muralist Danrelle McCall who has painted the side of the building with a portrait of George Washington Carver. The academic area should debut around March or April.

The mural on the side of Rare Variety Cafe on N. Main in Columbia, SC, depicts George Washington Carver

She says the name, Rare Variety, is because "we're doing things that we don't normally see being done. Having kids grow the food that is then used in the kitchen and cooked to serve this community."

Clemons wants to work with area schools and use guidelines created by the US Department of Agriculture to teach children the farm-to-table process of growing their own food.

The menu at Rare Variety features kale, collards, lentils, beans and peas and such, as well as Southern fried cauliflower (using sunflower oil), jackfruit sliders, and Lila's lasagne.

Jackfruit sliders at Rare Variety Cafe on N. Main in Columbia, SC

"It's going to be culturally relevant," says Clemons of the menu. "It tastes good, there's a lot of herbs and spices. Again, being vegan, we won't be using any animal products."

Clemons has a background in nutrition -- she has a Masters Degree in Public Health from USC, attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, and is a certified health coach, and has worked as a private healthy lifestyle consultant for small to medium sized businesses.

She also lives the lifestyle. Clemons believes that if you start children out a a young age experiencing fresh fruits and vegetables, then they are more apt to live their life with healthier habits.

"I don't know why they made 'vegan' a villain or something like 'Oooh, I don't want to eat that,' " she says. "Because all it is for me, is just not having the meat. That's it.

"So I tell people, 'Fix your plate...then take the meat away.' That's vegan."

November 27, at 6 p.m., will be the first community class at Rare Variety Cafe with students from nearby Columbia College. Clemons calls the monthly Tuesday meeting "Tea Time with Bonita" and encourages anyone who wants to attend to bring their favorite tea cup (the cafe will provide the free tea) and spend an evening asking questions, participating in discussions and just getting to know one another.

For information about upcoming classes, stop in at Rare Variety Cafe 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, call (803) 708-6481, of follow on Instagram at rarevarietycafe.