Cassie Tolman and her mother Marlene Tolman created Pomegranate Cafe as a space to combine flavor and nutrition in an earth-conscious manner. Opened in 2009, Pomegranate Cafe become a Phoenix hit. Cassie Tolman is a former Superstition Review intern and a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Cookery School. Her mother, Marlene, is a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute’s Cordon Bleu. You can find out more about Pomegranate Cafe on their website or on their Facebook page. This interview was conducted by current intern Christine Truong.
Superstition Review: What inspired you and your mom to open Pomegranate Cafe?
Cassie Tolman: My mom and I were inspired to open Pomegranate Cafe because we wanted to do something creative and authentic. We also wanted to get to know and nurture our local community. We are both passionate about healthy, organic vegetarian food and recognized that there were not many places in the neighborhood that serve fresh, wholesome food and drinks. My mom had some money that was passed on to her by her grandfather, and she decided that with the instability of the economy, investing in this dream was just as sensible as putting her money into retirement savings or any other investments. My 90-year-old grandmother (we call her the original health nut) also invested in Pomegranate Cafe. Two and a half years ago, we both quit our jobs, took a risk and opened Pomegranate Cafe in Ahwatukee.
SR: How has your interest in poetry and literature translated over to the conceptualizing of the restaurant?
CT: My interest in poetry and literature helped me conceptualize Pomegranate Cafe by supporting the idea that ordinary, everyday work can lead to magic. Opening Pomegranate Cafe has been transformative. Through lots of hard work and practice, what was once an empty, abandoned wine bar in a strip mall is now a bustling, thriving, vibrant cafe!
SR: What are some of your favorite dishes to prepare and why do you prepare them?
CT: I do not have a single favorite dish to prepare. Rather, I prefer to experiment and almost never cook the same thing twice. My favorite way of preparing a meal is to start with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. From here I am inspired by the people I am cooking for and the ingredients I have in my kitchen. I love to create raw vegan dishes because the colors, textures and flavors remain crisp, bold and beautiful.
SR: Do you think that preparing food and writing poetry involve, in some ways, a similar process?
CT: Preparing a meal and writing poetry do involve similar processes. The cook and the poet are both resourceful. We use what we have on hand, what happens to be in the cupboard or fresh from the garden today. With our hands, practiced technique, a few tools and a little magic, we create a meal (or a poem) that can be devoured. The magic comes into play when ordinary things – a bunch of beets, some garlic, a drop of oil, a handful of herbs / a single image, a memory, a string of words – all begin to work together with elements like time and heat. And somewhere in the process of hand and cutting board, stove and knife, pencil and paper, washing, chopping and mixing – a transformation occurs. The ingredients that were there in the cupboards, or the words that were under your pillow while you slept, are now coming together in the pot or on the page to form something new. Hopefully something to be eaten, savored, read, remembered.
SR: What are some things you like to do in your spare time?
CT: Spare time is almost non-existent since opening the cafe! Whenever I can steal a moment, I do still love to read…
Some of my current favorites:
Gabrielle Hamilton’s book Blood, Bones & Butter
Poetry by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Tamar Adler An Everlasting Meal