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Gerson's proves vegetables can be a hit

One of the biggest surprises for me here in Roanoke was discovering the vegetarian restaurant Gerson’s Garden. Nearing its four-year anniversary, Gerson’s Garden provides the citizens of Roanoke with great fresh food.

Just four years ago Gerson’s Garden was just a produce market. Owners Bill and Siri Wilkinson focused their efforts solely on growing and selling their produce for about a year, growing their customer-base the whole time.

Gerson’s Garden got its name from where it got its food: the garden of Bill’s grandfather, Gerson, who let Bill and Siri work on his land.

A stroke of serendipity then occurred: an ordinance allowing the sale of alcohol passed, and the space in downtown Roanoke next to the produce market became available. Not letting this opportunity escape, Bill began to make plans for Gerson’s Garden’s expansion the day after the passage of the alcohol ordinance.

This expansion allowed Gerson’s Garden to become what it is known for today: a comfortable, clean oasis where folks can get a wide variety of vegetarian dishes.

Inside Gerson’s Garden, customers enjoy its unimposing light blue walls and décor highlighted by large windows and strings of small lights.  The atmosphere leaves customers comfortable enough to try new things, which is a necessity given how different Gerson’s menu is from that of other local eateries.

Old jazz, country music, and even the “Frozen” soundtrack play in the background as customers begin their gastronomical adventure.

Gerson’s Garden provides not only an outlet for fantastic food, it also provides a way for Bill and Siri to advocate for vegetarianism. They take this mission seriously.

“We could easily serve meat, but I’m not going to serve something to someone that I wouldn’t eat myself,” said Bill Gerson.

During the health inspector’s first visit, he asked Bill and Siri how long it would be until they started selling chicken fingers. “We said we would close before we started selling any meat,” Siri said.

According to Bill and Siri, they may not get people to completely stop eating meat, but showing people good alternatives is a good step. “Everyone always assumes that vegetarianism involves eating only vegetable plates, but there’s really so much to eat,” Siri added.

Although getting Gerson’s to its current esteemed position in Roanoke was originally a slow process, Siri explained, the fact that Gerson’s already had a customer-base with its produce market helped expedite the process.

Bill noted that the process of expanding the fan base of Gerson’s usually begins with wives asking husbands to eat there, husbands being skeptical, and eventually the husbands trying the food and enjoying it.

“People were pretty skeptical being that we were a vegetarian restaurant that served alcohol, but that also intrigued people,” said Siri.

One of the best illustrations of the change Gerson’s Garden provides to the community is in their worker Madeline Farmer. Madeline is working at Gerson’s this summer while she’s away from Auburn University where she is a student.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten a vegetable until she had a tomato at Gerson’s. To promote this sense of adventure, Bill and Siri reward Madeline with a certificate of Food Achievement every time she tries a new vegetable.

With a menu as diverse as Gerson’s, the restaurant is likely to continue to be a reward of its own kind for customers who discover this vegetarian oasis.