The First Yumm! Bowl

by Mary Ann Beauchamp on February 15, 2010

People often want to know – how did Cafe Yumm! start? Did I plan a menu for a new café concept, or did I have a favorite recipe that friends and family loved and encouraged me to offer publicly? I think we’ve all tasted something a friend or family member made and were sure it would be an instant hit with everyone.

The fact is, the latter – but I didn’t believe this odd, sort of “health foodie” sauce would go over well with the majority of those who sampled it. I combined so many ingredients I liked, in such a complicated way, that I felt the sauce would remain just that – a family favorite destined to go no further than my house and the little jars I doled out during the holiday season.

I had no dream or expectation that this sauce would lead to a new life, café, retail production of the “family sauce”, and then subsequent franchising of that little café. I never imagined that the taste of this sauce would not only be well-received but would actually become “addictive” (in the words of my customers). Obviously, destiny engineers its own plans and we, in enthusiastic obeisance, become the operators.

Indeed, there was a plan, but it was not our plan. It’s what Mark calls an “organic” process – no specific intention, just life finding its way and creating one thing after another. It actually started from a different concept and developed synchronistically with input from our supportive and enthusiastic customers, and solving problems as our business developed.

Café Yumm! has been and still is a wonderful journey we have undertaken with our customers, friends, and family. I would like to share our story with you here in these pages. It’s several chapters in the making and the first chapter was Wild Rose Café & Deli.

I was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1950 to my American Army sergeant father and my Japanese mother. I spent several of my early childhood years living in a neighborhood in Verona, Italy. Mediterranean and Asian cuisine were a natural fusion for me. In addition to the unusual combination of Southern American and Japanese food served in our house every day, I learned to cook, blend, and eat flavors from all over the world, due in part to the different ethnic groups we were always surrounded by within the military family. Whether it was Greek, East Indian, Hispanic, or Filipino, fusing flavors and exploring food was a big part of my life, from a very early age.

In my twenties, with Mark’s influence, I became intrigued with the rising vegetarian movement and began to study vegetarian cuisine, embracing the challenge of creating flavorful recipes that would appeal to the mainstream American palate. For years I contemplated starting my own restaurant, but I didn’t really know where to begin. So, instead, I worked in many restaurants and cooked for family and friends, learning new techniques and exploring new cuisine.

In April 1991, the owner of Friendly Street Market offered me the opportunity to run my own small café in this neighborhood grocery store located in south Eugene. He had heard good things about my cooking from his customers and approached me regarding operating this charming, completely furnished and equipped café.

I had only to quit my job as one of the cooks at Oasis Fine Foods (now Capella Market), a local grocery store and deli, and make the commitment. I was very flattered but nervous at the prospect of running my own small restaurant. Mark, as usual, was my cheerleader. I remember him saying, “If you don’t do this, you will probably regret it.” And he would have been right.

My fear turned into enthusiasm, I signed a one-year lease and we started planning. After much discussion, we finally decided on Wild Rose Café & Deli as the name. It seemed natural, simple, and beautiful to me; with a touch of the exotic, which was exactly what I wanted to serve to my customers.

The menu offered typical neighborhood café items such as soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos, casseroles, pasta salads, breakfast pastries, tea and coffee drinks, and a full breakfast menu on the weekends. It was a very popular neighborhood location, open daily (as in, no days off for me).

I did all the cooking. Mark’s 67 year old mother and our 12 year old daughter, Jessica, served customers and washed dishes. Mark kept the books, processed the payroll, designed the menus, and handled many other business matters for the café while still being employed in his own career. This was truly a family affair.

It was in this setting that the first Yumm! Bowl was created.

When I was growing up, my mother would always have rice cooking at home and would make me bowls of rice with various toppings. I have always liked eating my meals from a bowl – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The layers stay intact, and can be mixed, if desired, with little or no spilling. For me, a bowl is also a symbol of nourishment, comfort, and giving.

Every day at that small café on Friendly Street, I would cook the soups and make the pasta salads. Foregoing recipes, I had to taste my creations to know when they were exactly right. When I was ready for lunch, after tasting soups, salads, dressings, baked goods and other items all morning, I was more than ready for something fresh and simple, nourishing and delicious… and something different than the food I had been tasting all morning.

So, I’d grab a bowl, put in some rice, layer on some of my homemade sauce and add some toppings, such as, cooked beans, diced tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cottage cheese, salsa, sprouts, or even some soup. Voila! Texture and color – edible art! I did this nearly every day and it was never the same bowl twice.

My customers would see this beautiful bowl of food and ask, “What are you having?” (They wanted what the cook was making for herself). “Just some things I threw together,” I’d say. “Would you make me one of those?” they would ask. This caused me a bit of angst because what I was making for myself was not on the menu and I had no idea what to charge them. They would tell me to charge them “whatever, it’ll be fine.”

So, being always passionate about making something my friends and customers enjoy, I would make them a bowl, like the one I had made for myself, and serve it to them. Almost without exception, they’d take a bite, roll their eyes heavenward, do a little knee dip, and exclaim, “Yummmm! What is this?!!”

This happened more and more often with more and more customers. Then, regulars began bringing in friends and asking me to make them both a bowl. The challenge, of course, was that I always made something different. Two ingredients were always consistent, however; rice and the sauce I made at home. (I didn’t serve the sauce at my café because it was kind of unusual and I thought people probably wouldn’t care for it.) So, I’d put something together and watch the friend go through the take a bite, eye roll, knee dip process.

Looking back this seems rather endearing, but at the time it was kind of weird and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. The most popular item requested wasn’t even on the menu, had no set list of ingredients, and included a sauce that I made at home just for my family. Did other restaurant owners go through this? I had no idea. What was obvious was that I needed to add this to our menu… whatever it was.

Near the end of our two years there, we simplified the bowl down to brown rice, “the sauce” (that’s what our customers called it in 1992), black beans, and salsa – that was all. I could not believe people wanted the simplest thing I made, over and over, often on a daily basis.

We operated the café at Friendly Street Market for two years before relocating to the Fifth Street Public Market in downtown Eugene in May of 1993 as Wild Rose Food Company. That part of the story is the next chapter.

Do you have memories of Wild Rose Café & Deli at Friendly Street Market? If you do, we’d love to hear them.