MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of profiles of local restaurant chefs.
Six years ago, Pam Smith faced the future and made a decision. The Martinsburg-area mother of three realized her kids would soon be out of high school and getting on with their lives.
She decided she should get on with her life, too, and tackle something new.
"I've always been a vegetarian, interested in health food. My husband is an old hippie. So it kind of fell into place that way," Smith said
"It" was opening Good Natured Market & Vegetarian Cafe near downtown Martinsburg. The market sells packaged foods, local diary products, "green" housekeeping products, local musicians' albums and much more. The cafe serves fresh-made, vegetarian soups, sandwiches, salads and entrees for lunch and dinner — everything made from scratch.
A couple weeks ago, on her 57th birthday, Smith chatted with The Herald-Mail on Good Natured's front porch about her business.
So that was your career before this?
I worked in music, and then I worked as a graphic artist, and then I worked at NPR (National Public Radio). I worked for "Performance Today." I was a tape-cutter, back when tape-cutter (was an actual position).
Then I had kids, and then I did this.
There aren't many places that make virtually everything they serve from scratch.
And I try to make it affordable, too. A lot of places will have that opportunity to make the food (from scratch), but then they'll charge more — like, they'll charge 22 bucks a plate. I don't do that. I don't have anything above $12.95. Maybe I should (charge more), but then again I feel like I can't. I'm not supporting people eating it every day if I make it very expensive.
Do you only prepare vegetarian food?
Yes. That's basically how I started out. One of the perks is that it's cheaper — I don't have the giant hood and the deep-fat fryer. I'm just basically cooking on a home stove, making things like you would at home, without much grease, just canola oil, olive oil.
I hadn't thought about what would distinguish a vegetarian kitchen from a "regular" restaurant kitchen.
I'm sure there are (vegetarian) places that have all that equipment. But they can also do deep-fat frying of vegetables, which I don't do.
And I try to make everything here, too. We don't use a lot of boxed products. We do use a few things — like bases for some of our soups or our falafel. But most everything is prepared from scratch. Even our desserts.
We do have vegan selections here. And we have gluten-free selections as well.
But I think we're the only solely vegetarian restaurant in the area. And I guess it's sometimes a struggle, because sometimes in the evening, women will call me up and say, "The menu says you have burgers. Are they meat or are they vegetarian?"
I say, "They're vegetarian."
They say, "Darn. Then I can't get my husband to come."
What do you make your burgers from?
I have maybe 10 different vegetarian burgers that we make. People love the burgers. That is one of my focal points. Our most popular is the zucchini-walnut burger. We have an almond burger. We have a magenta burger, which is made out of beets. We have a Popeye burger, which is tofu and spinach.
And grilled cheese is very popular. I can attract the meat-eaters with my grilled cheese.
What else sets Good Natured apart?
We did purposefully pick a downtown location. I had thought about being in other towns, but I had decided on Martinsburg, because, maybe it's not the best location to make a lot of money, but it's good to be in a place where you can help the town itself.
I do feel terribly committed to local business, and the fact that not everything should be on the interstate and be a big box store.
So people come here from downtown Martinsburg?
We have a surprising number of people who are regulars that we might see four or five times a week.
What training did you get as a chef?
I am not really a chef. I consider myself to be more a self-learned cook — learning to cook vegetarian food, making whole-food meals at home for many, many years. So when people say I'm a chef, I don't know. I know how to prepare food. I know what tastes good together. I'm more into the earthiness of food and the real flavors, versus cosmetically making it look perfect, and putting it on a little plate with (fancy garnishes).
What do you mean by "earthiness"?
Using whole foods, trying to use local foods. I'm into naturally sourced food as much as I can. Of course, during the winter it's harder. But there are some things available. Like, down this street, there's The Purple Iris (at Hartwood Mansion). It's a fancier place for weddings and receptions. They have grow lights in their basement. I get herbs and sprouts from them.
Is anything else local?
We order foods from Tuscarora Co-op, which is a Pennsylvania-based organic food co-op. We're also now getting food from local CSAs (community support agriculture). I purchase a share from Redbud (Organic) Farm, which is a local CSA. And I also have a guy who brings eggs, two or three times a week — Blue Mountain Farm. And I get produce from him.
Tell me, who comes here? When I think of Martinsburg, I think of more conservative folks. Your shop would fit in well in a college town.
I think that's true in some respect, but if you look at the society as a whole, I don't think we, anymore, can consider that people who want to be healthy have to be hippies or 20 years old.
We get a lot of men who actually have heart disease diagnosed, and all of sudden, they're faced with "I gotta eat healthier." They'll come by themselves, and often they'll come for several months and try to learn how to eat healthier.
You're showing people that there's more to vegetarian food than canned vegetables and white rice.
Most people are used to eating boiled vegetables when you go out to a restaurant. The vegetable they give you is either iceberg lettuce or boiled broccoli or carrots and-or bad coleslaw.
We have a vegetarian Reuben, which people just love. And the zucchini-walnut burger. I've been told it's the best "burger" that anybody's ever had.
This week, we're featuring a cranberry-tempeh-bacon wrap. I use this cranberry mustard mixed with tofu and some other spices, and apples in the tempeh bacon. I just had two ladies in there who are not vegetarian who really liked it.
I always tell people, "If you don't like it, you don't have to pay for it." And I haven't had anybody tell me yet they don't like something.
When you're off-duty, what do you do for fun?
I like to garden, but I have no time for it. I'm here basically from 9 in the morning to 8 in the evening. Six days a week. We do have a little garden out back (at the cafe) next to a little patio with outdoor seating.
When you cook for yourself, what do you like to make?
We have standby things that we make all the time at home. My husband, Jim, is a brown rice person. I fry vegetables and usually it's rice and some kind of vegetables.
Do you ever watch cooking shows?
No, because I don't like the drama of it. I might watch someone like Martha Stewart or Julia Child, but I don't like the current shows. There's too much silly drama and people being mad at each other.
When you're not cooking, what do you do for fun?
We do go to movies. My family — my kids, my husband — they're all musicians. I spend a lot of time looking at magazines and cookbooks. And I like to spend a lot of time thinking about recipes. And I do like to sit outside when it's nice.
You've put almost five years into Good Natured. How has it turned out?
It's a comfortable spot. We have some music on some Saturday nights. Maybe twice a month. We have jazz, we have blues, we have modern alternative (music).
We do have a lot of ladies who come to enjoy the back room or the outside, just because it's a nice place to talk. We have knitting clubs that come. We have book clubs. People find the room, because it's open and the color is warm, it's a good place to chat.
I do like the place and I like the atmosphere, and I like what I'm trying to provide. You want to put joy and good feeling into what you prepare, because it does come out in the food.
If you go ...
Good Natured Market & Vegetarian Cafe
209 S. Raleigh St., Martinsburg, W.Va.
Open 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The cafe sells soups, sandwiches, salads and entrees for lunch or dinner; carry out or eat in.
The market carries packaged goods, fresh produce, beer and wine; also green products such as clothes, house paints and home goods. Many locally made products.