Lark Street keeps health a priority
By Reece Williams
It was no coincidence that Healthy on Lark opened on Friday June 12, the same weekend as the Capital Region’s Pride Parade and subsequent festival.
“Everybody is welcome,” says first-time restaurant owner Sharon Lastique. “I’m really working towards establishing a super friendly vibe that’s also non-judgmental.”
Less than two weeks prior, Lil’ Buddha Tea Company and Vegan Café still held residence in the sub-600 square foot basement-style store front at 274 Lark St. But on May 30, after deciding to pursue a career in education, owner Shannon Feeney closed one of the Capital Region’s few (if not only) 100 percent vegan establishments.
Feeney originally approached Mike Sperduto, owner of Lark Street’s Ben & Jerry’s, about taking over the space, but soon after entered into negations with Lastique by Sperduto’s advisement.
Lastique, a native of Queens, N.Y., became a vegetarian when she was 15, after reading “Diet for a Small Planet” by Francis Moore Lappé. The book documents the undesirable effects the meat production industry has on the environment and individual health.
“That really set me on a path to becoming conscious of what I put into my body,” says Lastique. “When I was exposed to the truth about how animals were raised in this country, I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Lastique’s decision to abstain from most animal products was not well-received by her parents.
“I grew up in a very cultural home; my father from Trinidad, and my mom Romania,” she says. “My mother told me [then] that I needed to learn how to cook.”
After graduating from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, women’s studies and legal studies in 1995, Lastique went on to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from John Jay College. For the next 13 years, she worked as a project manager at the New York State Office of Court Administration. Lastique was responsible for conducting web-based systems training for New York law enforcement officials.
In 2011, Lastique enrolled in and completed the Certified Health Coaching curriculum through the Integrative Nutrition Program. Soon after, she joined The Quest for Optimum Health, a web-based healthy-living initiative established in Albany.
Lastique targets “corporate women who want more energy,” offering weight-loss challenges, movement classes, and cooking classes. She also teaches yoga, nutrition, and discusses their shared relation to sociology through her “Healthy is the New Sexy,” program, which encourages students to “take charge of their health.” She hopes to bring the class to the University at Albany in the coming semesters.
But owning a restaurant had long been in Lastique’s plans. “Since I was young, I always had a vision—a fantasy—of having a café or a restaurant,” she says. Being approached by Feeney “was a very interesting moment that the universe said, ‘Well, here’s your opportunity; are you willing to take it, or not?’”
Healthy on Lark features a mostly plant-based menu, the two lone animal products being the free range eggs and assortment of goat and cow cheeses (both the eggs and the cheeses are locally-sourced).
“I will not consume eggs without knowing where they’re from,” says Lastique. “I need to know that they’re happy eggs from happy chickens.”
The goal of the eatery is to be a hub of culture, promoting a new idea of “comfort food.”
“In this country it often means hamburgers and mac and cheese, and fried food,” says Lastique. “I want to flip the script, and ask, ‘How can we comfort ourselves with delicious food that’re going to make us feel good afterwards?”
But make no mistake—Lastique does not sacrifice flavor for health with her menu. The food must “make your taste buds sing,” she says. “If it doesn’t float my boat, I’m not serving it. That’s the bottom line.”
Breakfast burritos bulge, stuffed with vitamins and additional protein from sweet potatoes and mushrooms. “Superfoods are often an afterthought for people, but here, they’re the primary focus,” says Lastique. The most popular plates have been the Chickpea Burger ($8.50), and the Vegan B.L.T. ($7.50), which is made with marinated tempeh.
Kennedy Johnson, 16, decided that she wanted to help out around the restaurant after she and a friend wandered in to what they remembered was Lil’ Buddha.
“Sharon overheard us reading the menu and invited us in,” says Johnson. “I came back later that day and said, ‘I’d love to help if you ever need any.’”
On Sept. 19, Healthy on Lark promoted a limited menu featuring fresh juices for passersby, taking part in the area’s popular neighborhood celebration, LarkFest. Sept. 20 was the restaurant’s first spoken word brunch, featuring local documentary filmmaker and farm-to-table advocate Imani Peterkin.
Healthy on Lark is open Monday and Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday 10 a.m.-5p.m.; Saturday 12 p.m.-6p.m.; and on select Sundays for brunch.
“What I want? It’s not too much to ask,” says Lastique. “Just a global shift in consciousness to be more kind to all sentient beings. People eat at least three times a day. So, the opportunity to get people to shift [their thinking] is during those times when they’re picking up a fork or a spoon, or a cup.”