From left, Naomi Hendrix and Cathy Barrow prepare buckie brownies Friday morning at Raw Fresno's location in Downtown Fresno. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
When people think of food trucks, tacos are the first thing that come to mind, but for chef Naomi Hendrix, bringing healthy food options to people in the Central Valley was what she had in mind.
At Raw Fresno in the Galleria building in Downtown Fresno, none of the food comes from a can or jar. Every morning, they soak, sprout, ferment and dehydrate locally grown and organic food to create natural and vegan dishes for every meal of the day. “It takes a lot of prep,” said Hendrix.
The journey began four years ago with a food truck that turned into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. There are also cooking demonstrations at Whole Foods, a delivery service, grocery shelf placement and even raw-food vending machines from Fresno to Visalia.
In a Valley that supports the world through its produce, some feel access to healthy food is limited. “I don’t know if you know how rare it is to have a raw, vegan place. We’re not known for our healthy options,” according to Rio Waller, Hendrix’ wife. But Hendrix wanted something more out of her food. She wanted to be able to use it to heal.
Eleven years ago, Hendrix’ son died of an autoimmune disease, something she thought could have been prevented — or even reversed.
“It was because of Ian’s death that I became aware of the food and how important it is and how it changes our life,” said Hendrix. After being told she would have to cut out most of what appears on a regular basis in our meals—dairy, gluten, sugar and yeast, she felt so much better about herself, and she lost the pounds to prove it.
Hendrix attended school at Living Light Institute in Fort Bragg and became a certified food healing specialist, finding how food could change lives. But some of the biases surrounding the food she serves made it hard to do business in the Central Valley. “Vegan has a negative connotation.”
When people think of veganism, they think of activism and hippies, Hendrix says, but she markets her food differently. She advertises as being “plant-based” and people have started to come around.
“It used to be hard when I started, but it’s getting much easier,” Hendrix said. “More people are getting health-minded and reaching out for a plant based diet.”
That trend has reached out beyond just her restaurant. Raw Fresno puts its wraps, cheesecakes and hearty salads in Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market for people to grab on-the-go. The Fresno County Department of Social Services call center will soon have a vending machine that will have fruits, veggies and certain entrees provided by Raw Fresno available for on-demand snacking.
At the restaurant, work begins at 7 a.m. each morning. Food is prepped for the day ahead because everything has to be fresh and raw. Hendrix has a favorite for each meal. For breakfast, she likes the buckie brownie sandwich, where a brownie made from raw cacao powered is held together by two “buckies,” made of walnuts, dates and buckwheat. Nut butter and molasses hold everything together.
At lunchtime, Hendrix likes the veggie pizza, which comes with hummus, locally-sourced tomatoes, cucumbers and sliced mushrooms, as well as red cabbage, peppers with a pumpkin seed pesto.
By dinnertime, it is a beans-and-greens salad for Hendrix.
Her approach to healthy eating has spread and found its way throughout the Valley. Kaiser Permanente enlisted her help at their farmer’s market, where she has a booth and does cooking demonstrations. They also asked her to hold seminars for doctors about “how to add plant-based foods to patients’ diets.” She taught 80 doctors in January about supplementing treatment with healthy food.
Today, her food can be found at more than just the food truck or at the restaurant. Raw Fresno sends its food to Abundant Harvest in Kingsburg, which assembles produce boxes from local farmers and chefs for its 3,000 subscribers. They also have their own subscription lunch service sold by the month and by the year. And for those who want Raw Fresno in their own kitchen, Hendrix holds classes every two weeks and on Thursday, she had 17 people, including two who attended live from Texas on her YouTube channel.
One of her Lunch Club subscribers, Myra Reich, said “kept coming back [because] she makes green food taste good.”
Raw Fresno is located at 2405 Capitol St., Ste. 103 in Downtown Fresno. Her food trucks are at Fresno City College on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Kaiser hospital on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Enzo’s Table Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.