Raw Eating and a THRIVE-ing Community

June 5, 2011


Confession time: even though I consider myself an indefatigable foodie, embarrassing but true, I know very little about a raw food diet. At least, until last week when I had the incredible pleasure of dining at Seattle's premier organic raw cafe, Thrive. In my mind, raw food meant things like cashew cheese, carrot juice and well, I didn't know what else - and although not inaccurate, it is an utterly incomplete picture of raw living.

Thrive Seattle

Monika Kinsman, Thrive’s visionary and managing owner, began her life as a raw foodist five years ago when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Both Monika and her mother, Karen, traveled to the Hippocrates Health Institute, and began learning about raw foods as one possible path to healing disease in the body.  After seeing and experiencing the health benefits of eating a raw foods diet, Monika made the decision to incorporate raw foods into her lifestyle. Returning to Seattle, she discovered the city was a wasteland for raw resources - literally nothing existed at the time, and living raw fell by the wayside. After two years and a series of medical issues, Monika's enthusiasm was renewed and she founded the Raw Network of Washington to educate the community and provide resources and support for those adopting a raw way of life.

In December 2008, in the midst of the economic crisis, Monika opened Thrive. Because of the economic situation, it was all but impossible to get a small business loan, and so Monika turned to her community - and did they ever come through. Within months, Monika was able to raise the funding needed to open the café – through Thrive’s Loan Program, investment opportunities, and gift card sales.  As much a product of Monika's innovation and dedication, Seattle's latest raw cafe is equally indebted to the community which it serves and educates. While Thrive employs over thirty paid staff members, Thrive’s expansion efforts are greatly assisted by volunteers who prepare desserts, provide office assistance, and lend a hand for special events such as the “Gala of Gratitude”, where Thrive gives away free meals each Thanksgiving . Thrive also offers demo classes on raw food preparation, as well as hands-on 8-week intensive courses where students spend mornings in the kitchen learning the best tips and tricks for creating incredibly healthy and delicious organic, dairy free, gluten free and vegan fare. What happens to all of that food?  It’s served to Thrive’s customers!  Talk about sustainable, local, and inspiring.

While Thrive is primarily raw/vegan eatery, they are also completely gluten free and offer the option of hot soups and steamed Bhutanese red rice or quinoa.

Ninja Rolls

The first time I entered the cafe, it was more than bustling - the tables and bar were packed with customers, and the bookstore/equipment/grocery area overflowing with a small crowd. As it turns out, raw and vegan author Ani Phyo was hosting a book signing during our lunch date, but that's another post altogether. Monika started me off with two beverages: a "Northern Light" juice ($6-$10) which uses apple, cilantro, basil, ginger and lime - delicious! Incredibly refreshing and with a bit of a kick, I'd take this over lemonade on any hot summer day, and the "Chocolate Coconutty" ($6-$10) which features fresh, young coconut and coconut water, cashews, dates and agave - like the best (and healthiest!) chocolate shake of your life; the Northern Light was tasty, but chocolate is my weak spot!

From there, she produced a plate of the most amazing looking sushi - the "Ninja Rolls" ($10, pictured above). Traditional seaweed, stuffed with walnut-cashew pate, carrots and cucumber with a side of Sesame Ginger dressing and drizzled with Garlic Cilantro "God" Sauce. Because of a severe shellfish allergy and most soy sauce containing gluten, I've never really been a huge sushi fan -- until now -- the crunch of the carrots and cucumber are a perfect foil for the dried seaweed and soft pate, add in the salty-nutty Sesame Ginger dressing and the spicy-garlicking God sauce and I was in heaven! For a main dish, I moved on to the "Bella Burger" ($11), a portabella mushroom patty with sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and spices, served with a sweet house-made BBQ sauce, avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, and wrapped in lettuce. As a veteran lettuce-wrapper, the presentation was not surprising, but I was in for such an incredible treat - the BBQ-ish sauce was sweet, tangy and smoky and the texture of the burger was just perfect, not crumbly but not dense, and essentially delicious.

Raw Vegan Dessert

Finally, dessert. You may be thinking, "How do you make raw vegan desserts..?" The thought certainly crossed my mind - and was immediately replaced with "Yum!". Monika presented me first with a raw chocolate truffle rolled in coconut - like the best, most chocolate fudge I have ever had the pleasure of savoring. Next, two slivers of the most popular cheesecake-style pies: "Mint Chocolate Marble" ($7.49) and "Strawberry Cream Cake" ($6.99), both pictured above. The "Mint Chocolate Marble" was creamy and chocolaty, like the finest mousse, -  I may have died and gone to heaven right at my table!  The Mint Chocolate Marble had a strong mint flavor and as much as I was enjoying it, something seemed a bit odd – and I realized that it was because the flavor was from real, fresh mint, not the artificial flavoring so common in desserts these days. The "Strawberry Cream Cake" was equally delicious, which chunks of fresh strawberries and rich layer of chocolate mousse nestled in a cashew-macadamia crust. As someone who usually cannot order off the dessert menu (at least, not often anything beyond a scoop of ice cream and you would be surprised by how complicated even that can be), I was so thrilled – I will happily admit to over-eating and savoring every last bite.

Thrive’s Mission: To provide the healthiest food available in a restaurant setting; to demolish the myth that to eat healthy you must sacrifice deliciousness; and to provide a new choice where one was previously unavailable.

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Brady's picture

The article is a bit misleading. Although thrive has some good food, over time their reputation has been known as the place that pays minimum wage and tricks people into working for free by holding "cooking classes" for $400 then selling the food in the cafe. It's constantly dirty and generally poorly run. Sorry to be critical but it's true.

Monika Kinsman's picture


I am the owner of Thrive and I am posting in response to address this transparently, as we always do in the cafe. You are welcome to contact me in person; I would be happy to talk to you, and I would appreciate it.

First of all, in regard to your comment about our classes -- on Thrive's website, it clearly states that the food made in class will be sold in the cafe. Students benefit from Thrive NOT adding the cost of ingredients to the price of the program. If we were to purchase ingredients solely for the program, the cost would double. Therefore, this is a win/win situation. In regard to disclosure, students and everyone who inquires to learn more about the program receives full disclosure around this matter, on the website, during the information sessions, and even before they become a student. We also address this during the orientation, and students also sign a form indicating that they understand this before their first day of class. There is no "trickery" going on, nothing hidden about this. We are very transparent and honest in all matters about this.

In regard to your perception that we only pay minimum wage for all of our workers, Thrive does not currently have any employees working at minimum wage. Most restaurants, however, do start employees at minimum wage. The average pay for our cafe staff is $10.50, and employee also make several dollars per hour more in tips, receive free meals, and have a great working environment.

As far as the cafe being "poorly run", this is pretty vague. Do you have any specific feedback that could make a difference?

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me and talk to me in person, or on the phone. You are damaging our reputation by posting things on this article that are not true. We work very hard to maintain transparency in our dealings.

Monika Kinsman

Adam's picture

I love this restaurant... Thrive is one of my favorite places to frequent in Seattle. It is generally always clean. Not sure how anyone could ever think different? The food is amazing, the staff is attentive and always willing to engage in real conversation. Keep on keeping on!

Sarah 's picture

Here's the thing about Thrive. You just can't consider them a real business. They are a community supported entity that relies on paying low wages, and in this case misleading people into prepping food for a cooking class, then selling it at the cafe. Thrive also relies on volunteers. This is kinda cool but they are kidding themselves when looking for venture capital and money help. Prove yourselves as a real business before talk of expansion and need for investment. No rational investor would give money to a business who needs volunteers to survive.
Aldo, the food is good however the cafe feels dirty.