Maggie's encourages eating well, supporting local food

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Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe, located at 311 North 8th Street in Lincoln’s Haymarket, serves a variety of vegetarian and vegan options.

Story and photos by Bethany Trueblood, NewsNetNebraska

Lincoln, Neb., capital of a “beef state,” might be the last place one would expect to find a vegetarian café. In fact, 11 years ago, Lincoln residents would not have found such a place. That changed, though, when Maggie Pleskac opened her vegetarian café in Lincoln’s own Historic Haymarket.

Pleskac, a Lincoln native, traveled up and down the West Coast in the ’90s where vegetarian and organic fare was prevalent. Upon returning home, she realized Lincoln did not have vegetarian options. Inspired by farmers markets she saw out West that featured fresh and local food, she decided to open a café. She withdrew from her English and women’s studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, at age 25, opened Maggie’s Vegetarian Café in 2000.

“I didn’t think it would go,” Pleskac said. “I didn’t know if Lincoln was ready for it. And honestly, in 2000 they weren’t really.”

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Owner Maggie Pleskac prepares carrots in the cafe kitchen.

But she kept going, and a couple of years later people caught on to the quaint cafe and business steadily grew.

The all-natural, from-scratch kitchen uses local and organic ingredients whenever possible and strives to use only seasonal foods, keeping the food and menu fresh. Pleskac knows she needs the basics-like onions, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes-but she often uses whatever the farmers give her to adapt or create new selections.

“If they’ve got beets or they’ve got radishes, if they’ve got kale…then we can incorporate that into our seasonal lasagna, our seasonal roasted veggies, whatever soup is going to be made that day,” she said. “Everyday we get to incorporate something local into the menu. That’s the important thing.”

In her effort to support sustainable agriculture, Pleskac relies on about 13 local farmers as her main suppliers. She makes arrangements in advance with them, assuring her of supplies and giving the growers a consistent buyer.

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Maggie’s “Wall of Farmers” who supply the cafe with many of its products.

“They’re not taking it to the farmers market and hope they’ll sell it; they know if they grow this row, it’s sold,” she said.

Relying on the farmers is a risk, Pleskac knows. Sometimes crops fail. When that happens, Pleskac might have to seek produce from California. But for her, it’s a risk worth taking.

“I’d rather do that then not even try, because there’s so many restaurants around here that don’t try,” she said. “I guarantee you people want that: they want to see that you are supporting a family farm, they want to see that it’s bought local.”

In addition to local farms, Pleskac uses her own yard in the Eastridge area and several plots of land to grow a variety of produce.

“My entire front and back yard and side of the house, everything is garden. There’s almost no yard at all,” Pleskac said. “We also have about three other plots in Lincoln that we just kind of play around with.”

Maggie’s fresh, hand-crafted menu items draw vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Jackie Ostrowicki, director of marketing for Nelnet, started coming to Maggie’s when it first opened. She calls herself “quasi-vegetarian” since she does eat fish and chicken from time to time.

“Maggie holds her own. She has the best wraps,” Ostrowicki said, who enjoys the Avocado Melt, a popular wrap. She also said she loves supporting small, local businesses and recognizes Pleskac’s support for local farms.

Marty Hager, owner of the Minnow Project advertising company, started coming to Maggie’s three years ago. He is not a vegetarian, but he enjoys the food and treats himself to Maggie’s once a month.

“Where else do you get this kind of menu and passion?” Hager said. “I can taste the passion.”

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Maggie’s also makes vegan muffins using potato starch instead of eggs. The cafe provides baked goods for Indigo Bridge bookstore and Cultiva Coffee.

While Maggie’s continues to go strong, the café is no longer the only vegetarian eatery in Lincoln. Since its opening, Maggie’s has been joined by Pepe’s in Havelock. Pleskac said there is absolutely no competition; in fact, she sends customers to Pepe’s.

“We send everybody there and they’re like ‘Thank you for giving me somewhere to eat.’”

Vegetarian options are also available around Lincoln at Freakbeat (formerly Grateful Bread), Blue Orchid and the Oven.

“They have great vegetarian menus,” Pleskac said.

Although some opt not to eat organic because it’s expensive, Pleskac argues that it’s all about how consumers allot their money.

“You pay for it now or you pay for it later,” Pleskac said. “You either get healthy now and put good food in your body, or you pay all your healthcare costs later.”

Organic is going to be expensive, she said, because of the fair wage the farmer or the laborer received for their work.

“The integrity of the food, you just can’t put a dollar on that,” she said.

In her passion to support local food, Pleskac encourages people to effect change in small ways.

“I always tell everybody ‘Vote with your forks,’” she said. “We need to redirect our money, how we spend our money, put our fork onto a plate that will effect change.”

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