IOWA CITY — Trumpet Blossom Cafe and Katy Meyer already reinvented the way they provide all-vegan, all-local food in Iowa City, in response to COVID-19.
Now, the 8.5-year-old restaurant and bar is reinventing its charity work, one of its pivotal qualities over time.
Earlier this week, Trumpet Blossom hosted a winter clothing drive for the Iowa City Tenants Union and Shelter House. Meyer provided a complementary vegan treat to anyone who swung by to drop off winter clothes of any kind that they no longer need.
The need for these donations is already mounting, says Christine Ralston, spokesperson for Shelter House, a nonprofit that serves people without homes or in transition. “Well-informed, community-initiated efforts like this one by the Iowa City Tenants’ Union (and Trumpet Blossom) are invaluable to Shelter House clients and guests in meeting recognized shortfalls in available supplies to provide our neighbors with the items they need most.”
Especially in demand already, Ralston says: warm hats, gloves, and socks; sweatpants and sweatshirts; and coats. Larger sizes of Large and higher (up to 2XL, even) are always in need, she says. Donations can be taken directly to Shelter House at 429 Southgate Ave. in Iowa City.
Meyer says she’s thankful one of her co-workers (she rarely uses the word “employees”) asked if she’d host the clothing drive, making use of the picnic tables that have always sat outside of Trumpet Blossom.
“Trumpet Blossom has always tried to be involved in fundraising in the community,” Meyer says. “But it’s been challenging, given the current business model. So was nice to be approached.”
Pre-pandemic, Trumpet Blossom hosted Tacos for Peace every month since 2016, raising money for a different community group. The Shelter House has always been an annual recipient of some kind of December effort.
Over the years — through special events, donations, or hosting live music events — Trumpet Blossom has donated to the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic; the Emma Goldman Clinic and its women’s health services; the Domestic Violence Intervention Program; the RVAP and its services to assult victims; the Women’s Resource and Action Center; Girls Rock; the RARE Group devoted to conservation and rehabilitation of birds of prey; and Iowa City Pride, which coordinates the annual LGBTQ Pride celebration.
Her offering of a dessert treat to those donating winter clothing is actually part of Meyer’s expanded and exploratory approach to creating vegan food. She’s experimenting with more desserts including donuts, muffins, cinnamon rolls, and decorated cakes.
In addition, Meyer is always exploring new sauces, sides and main dishes of “take and bake”and “grab and go.” to complement Trumpet Blossom’s regular menu offerings.
Some longtime fans of Trumpet Blossom are thrilled with the new offerings. Lynn Gallagher, a longtime vegan and animal welfare activist from Solon, says Meyer’s food has been “keeping me alive.”
“With the pandemic and all the stressful things going on, I’ve been living on that food for the last several months,” Gallagher says. “Every Tuesday, I look forward to the menu; I’ve even called in just to tell her, ‘that item you made was amazing.’ It’s not just that it’s vegan; it’s also local and organic.”
Meyer’s description of how Trumpet Blossom has adjusted since March is, like so many business owners’ recollections, a jarring walk down an uncertain memory lane. She starts by sharing how the crisis began before it was declared.
Meyer and her staff decided to close Trumpet Blossom to all in-house traffic just days before Reynolds announced that all restaurants and non-essential businesses had to do the same. Then, as the crisis deepened, Trumpet Blossom closed its doors altogether for about six weeks, aiming to regroup in a way that would be sustainable during the coming period of uncertainty.
“It was just too much, to go from being a full-service restaurant and bar to “to-go only” within 24 hours, while everyone was still trying to figure out what’s going on,” Meyer remembers.
As a restaurant whose entire identity was built on fresh produce the decision of whether to stay open or close briefly was more complicated. “You have to spend money to buy things to sell to people. If you’re not sure if people are going to be buying these things, I didn’t want to be spending the money,” Meyers recalls. “I don’t have investors, or partners. It’s just me and my staff and my family. I wasn’t going to risk it all.”
Meyer and her manager first took all the unused produce and distributed it among the staff of 14 or so. Then, Meyer set about strategizing. She reopened in early May all about take-out, take- and-bake, grab-and-go, and endless new creations.
She still employs six of her original staff; the others, mostly part-timers, know they’re welcome to return if it works for them, Meyer says. Meyer also still turns to local farms for produce including Echollective Farm in Mechanicsville; Friendly Farm in Iowa City; Organic Greens, Blue’s Best Mushrooms out of Vinton; Old Capitol Food Company out of Iowa City; and Tempeh Tantrum in Minneapolis.
Among her favorite new creations: seitan sausage links glazed with maple. “It’s so fun, because seitan is something you make. At first it seems like a big bunch o dough, and then you portion it, and roll it up in these little foils,” she says. “Then you have to steam the sausage links individually, and then pan-fry them.”
Trumpet Blossom will soon begin offering to-go cocktails in jars with screw-on lids.
Meyer envisions remaining “all to-go” through at least spring. In the meantime, Trumpet Blossom’s altered hours make it possible for her to begin the day with her son, who is remote-learning at home, and kiss him goodnight at home.
She says she’s thankful for her customers’ strong support during the transition, offers condolences to any restaurants who have had to close, and is uplifted by the overall increased interest in vegan food.
“People are just becoming more aware of the impacts that their personal choices can have,” she says. “They’re realizing that some things we’re accustomed to just aren’t sustainable and are irresponsible. And I think some people are seeing more plant-based options in the marketplace and are experimenting with them and realizing, ‘Hey, these are good. Maybe I should give these a try.’ “
Current hours for Trumpet Blossom are noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For Tuesday take and bake orders, you’re asked to call a day ahead. Reach Trumpet Blossom at 319-248-0077, or order delivery through Chomp.
UPDATE: This article was updated Sun., Oct. 18