Over forty years ago, Arthur Gordon and his friends asked, “Hey, why don’t we start a vegetarian restaurant?” He was just going to do it for a year or two, but now Irregardless Cafe continues on as a strongly established restaurant in Raleigh. Over the course of several decades, he and his wife, Anya, have continued to ask questions about how they can be sustainable and advocate for a healthier lifestyle.
“The essence of the restaurant is that it’s a path that has to have a heart,” said Arthur. “The heart is that when we had a fire in ’94 we paid all of our employees while we were closed. We were the first restaurant in North Carolina in 1982 to go to nonsmoking. And then it just follows into making donations to charitable causes as part of that path.”
Among those causes, Irregardless Cafe donated to Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now), a global, nonprofit food relief agency. Rise Against Hunger packages meals that are sustainable and distributes them around the world. Meal packages cost 29 cents and feed six children.
The latest question for the Gordons led to buying an acre and a half of land. Anya laughed saying, “Five years ago in February, we said, ‘you know, wouldn’t it be fun to have a garden?’”
So, they bought some land with an abandoned home on the property right before it was foreclosed on and said they jumped in feet first. Four other families joined together to create an LLC, with the Gordons as majority owners. Both the house and the land had a fair amount of development to be done to get it up and running. But as they worked to clear things away, they found and created a beautiful place for a garden. They even found a well right on the property, which gave it the name Well Fed Community Garden.
All the cuttings in the kitchen are recycled and brought to the garden to become compost, which reduces waste at the restaurant and builds the garden. There is a garden manager who lives on the property, as well as two apprentices, and volunteers can come and work in the garden to see how food grows.
Of the food produced, 80 percent goes toward the restaurant and other commercial vendors, while 20 percent goes back to the volunteers, neighbors, and nonprofit organizations. Among the fruit trees, chickens, and vegetables are also monthly workshops, meals, and garden tours that are open to the community.