West Ashley’s The Gathering Café is one of the area’s best choices for plant-based diets

I had such good intentions for the weeks I would spend in homebound quarantine. Finally, I would have time for self-improvement. I would work on that novel. I would learn to play the violin that is hanging on my wall – more ornament than instrument. I would brush up on my French, and I would get fit. Almost three months later, the violin remains decor, I’ve barely read a book, let alone written one, and I still ne parle pas le français. At least in my effort to get fit, I can now get a healthy, delicious meal.

Nestled in the Orange Grove Plaza, the Gathering Café has quietly and humbly created a health-forward, farm to table concept long before some of the other big restaurant names began boasting of their own local organic ingredients. Their menu has an abundance of vegetarian and vegan offerings, and these dishes are not an afterthought. Chef Nathan Conkle has featured vegetarian food as a keystone of his menu since the restaurant opened in 2012. The restaurant has grown in leaps and bounds since then. June was gearing up to be their most successful month ever — proof that there is a viable and sustainable market for plant-based food in West Ashley.

But, like so many others during the COVID-19 crisis, Conkle has been forced to make some tough decisions recently, including the temporary closure of his beloved Gathering Café. “It all happened so fast. We were following the news and people were starting to get nervous,” said Conkle. After a week of offering take out only, he decided to shutter the restaurant entirely. With a newborn baby at home and the health and safety of his staff and customers at stake, it wasn’t worth the gamble.

After six weeks closed, the Gathering Café is again providing take out service, including a family meal deal. If you’re tired of being holed up at home and craving adventure, their Panang curry is sure to transport you from your apartment straight to Thailand. If you’re heading to the beach for some space and fresh air, pick up their spicy tofu sandwich (don’t forget the sunscreen). It’s totally vegan and you can even switch out gluten-free bread if that’s your thing. If your beach buddy is completely horrified by your gluten-free, vegan lifestyle, grab them a roast turkey wrap and remind them how fortunate they are to spend the day with you. That’s the beauty of the Gathering Café — there’s something for everyone.

That’s especially true of the greens and grains section of the menu. Here you get to build your own masterpiece from an amazing selection of sides such as organic brown rice, caramelized cauliflower, or (my favorite) roasted brussels sprouts. Top all that with your choice of protein – tofu if you’re going veggie, and you’ll have a meal sure to satisfy the hungriest of post-quarantine appetites.

As Conkle starts to rebuild his business in a completely different world, he knows it’s difficult to plan for an uncertain future. “I try to focus on right now,” says Conkle. In an era when the entire food and beverage business model is changing, that means leaning on family members for help as he gradually rebuilds his staff and reconfigures his dining room to serve customers in a post-COVID world. His wife and mom have both stepped in to help the family business navigate its way to fully reopening their dining room.

Online ordering will be available very soon, but in the meantime check out the Gathering Cafe’s Facebook page for their current menu and place your order by calling the restaurant directly at (843) 297-8380. The Gathering Café is located at 1124 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.

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