For Cornbread Café owner Sheree Walters, it’s always been about the food. After opening a food cart at 8th Avenue and Oak Street, Walters pinned down her striking diner location in west Eugene in 2011. The popular eatery has been a destination for people seeking a plant-based restaurant option, and now the venture has a new outpost on Springfield’s growing Main Street.
“A lot of people believed in Cornbread and me,” Walters says.
We’re in the 1911 building that Walters and building owners David Loveall and Bob Miller painstakingly transformed from the foam-cutting back room of a fabric and upholstery store, to a bright, spacious restaurant, with high ceilings and antique detailing.
Restaurant ownership is not for the faint of heart, Walter notes.
“It took almost two years to convert the space. Every single thing had to be built out. It was twice as expensive and took twice as long,” she says.
In the end, it’s worth it. Inside the Springfield restaurant, sunlight filters across the Cornbread color palette: Muted goldenrods and soft grays highlight some super tasty Southern-inspired vegan food. It’s lunchtime, and customers of all ages are enjoying service.
I sample the sautéed greens, bright with a kick of apple cider vinegar and liquid smoke. Fried okra is delicate and addicting, each morsel lightly coated in a gluten-free cornmeal-based breading, these nuggets of happiness are paired with a creamy sweet chili dipping sauce.
The café’s jambalaya replaces shredded chicken or seafood with soy curls. “It’s a traditional recipe veganized,” Walter says.
The macaroni salad could find a home on my husband’s 102-year-old Arkansan grandmother’s table. Studded with celery and peas, and made with egg-free mayo, this dish makes it easy not to use animal products in food consumption.
“We love animals,” Walters says. “We don’t need to eat them.”
Cornbread’s gumbo features an andouille seitan “sausage” with a scrumptious slab of cornbread on the side. Featuring flavorful cornmeal from Camas Country Mill in Junction City, this egg-free cornbread is better than grandma’s. (Please don’t tell her.)
Walters has already had live music and dancing in her welcoming new space and hopes to bring in more.
“From old school acoustic, swing dance classes, hoedowns and square dances, fundraisers, community is what it’s all about,” Walters says.
Cornbread Café is at 338 Main Street in Springfield, open 11 am to 9 pm Tuesday through Saturday. See cornbreadcafe.com for more information.