Uncommon eatery to occupy familiar building

Burnsville resident Melanie Vejdani is remodeling the former Stephano’s Bistro Continental building in Burnsville, where she will open Olivia’s Organic Cafe. Photo by John Gessner

Olivia’s will serve organic, gluten-free, dairy-free meals

When Melanie Vejdani left her sales job to start an event hosting company, she was driven to be her own boss and inspired by her love of entertaining.

Now, as Vejdani prepares to open what she says will be Minnesota’s first gluten-free, dairy-free and organic cafe, she’s driven by holistic health principles and inspired by her daughter, Olivia.

The 17-year-old, who has Asperger syndrome, shares with her mother a history of autoimmune disorders. About five years ago their family went firmly gluten (wheat)- and dairy-free.

“The gluten-free, dairy-free helped her a lot,” said Vejdani, 49, who also has two adult children with husband Abbas. “It obviously helped me a lot because it made me recover from my health issues. I had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, and recovered. I recovered from that via diet.”

Vejdani wanted to open a restaurant where families and children following dietary restrictions could order anything from a wide-ranging menu that doesn’t force diners into a box.

At the same time, the Burnsville resident was needing office space for her home-based business, Hire a Host, which over 20 years expanded into a full event-planning company.

She found what she was looking for close to home. Vejdani is the new owner of the building near Cliff Road and Highway 13 that housed Stephano’s Bistro Continental for 25 years. Stephano Awada sold the building and closed the popular independent restaurant in April.

“This is where we’ve lived for 20 years,” Vejdani said. “We always have to travel to Minneapolis to get organic food. I love bringing that to the south metro, to our community.”

She’s splitting the building between Hire a Host offices and a cafe that she says will double as a space for holistic health seminars and events.

The organic food aspect alone (no pesticides, additives, fertilizers, GMOs) is unique to the south metro, Vejdani said. Add gluten- and dairy-free, and she knows of no similar restaurant anywhere.

The concept was a hit, Vejdani said, when she debuted it at the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest Minneapolis in May.

“There’s a huge population not being served,” said Vejdani, who expects people to drive unusual distances to visit Olivia’s Organic Cafe, the name inspired by her daughter. “They’re ecstatic. The mothers were thanking me.”

Though her breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are works in progress, Vejdani said she wants to serve the “comfort foods” often not available to restaurant diners following dietary restrictions.

Mashed potatoes prepared without milk, for example. Pasta with alfredo sauce. Roast beef dinners and fish, and for the kids, chicken fingers and mac and cheese.

“My family, we ate out three to four times a week before we went gluten-free, dairy-free,” Vejdani said. “And then when we did, we got to where we didn’t eat out at all because it wasn’t fun. There was no good food and it was not fun at all. It really made the dynamic change for us.”

She’s insistent on the health impacts of her diet choices. She said removing gluten cleared her head fog, cutting out sugar ended the pain of fibromyalgia and vegetables and juices restored her energy.

“There is debate for other people,” Vejdani said, “but not for me, because I watched it in my own life.”

Vejdani plans to get a liquor license and serve organic, gluten-free beer, wine, cider and spirits. The building is being gutted and renovated to accommodate Hire a Host offices and a cafe reminiscent of the bakery in her favorite movie, “It’s Complicated” starring Meryl Streep. In similar Hampton Beach style, the building’s exterior will be painted gray and white, said Vejdani, who expects to open Olivia’s in April 2018.

The cafe will sell some holistic products and close on Mondays for the events and seminars, she said. The vision doesn’t end there.

“My future dream,” Vejdani said, “is also to have Camp Olivia, which would be a gluten-free, dairy-free, organic camp where kids can go and be immersed in a holistic lifestyle for a couple weeks, to turn off the phones and the computers, to be in nature and to learn how to cook healthy.”

The restaurant website is www.oliviasorganiccafe.com.