For Roy and Tomi Cunningham, going out to eat used to be a challenge.
Because they've always chosen an organic, GMO-free diet for themselves and their daughter, eating at a restaurant made them feel like they were compromising their values. There were few vegetarian or vegan options and even fewer eateries that were exclusively organic.
So they opened their own: Nectar Cafe.
"It's a healthy option for ourselves and for our planet," Roy said.
The couple began with the idea of a small place that offered smoothies and salads, but soon their dream grew to include soups and sandwiches, nachos and enchiladas, veggie burgers and deep dish lasagna -- to name a few delicious items on the menu.
On the occasion when they can't find an organic item , Roy and Tomi stick to the "Clean 15" rule and avoid the "Dirty Dozen" -- produce that's most harmed by pesticides.
"I would never sell an apple that wasn't organic," Roy said.
Roy's favorite dish may be the Santa Fe Bowl: Rice and beans with roasted salsa and cashew cheese, but, he said, it's difficult to choose just one.
"If I didn't like it," he said, "it wouldn't be on the menu."
Nectar cafe opened almost four years ago, and for the first couple of years the Cunninghams worked 14-hour days, seven days a week.
But it was worth it to see the delight on the faces of their guests, Roy said.
"Healthy food doesn't have to taste like cardboard," he said. "When you add the richness and the right spices, and you're conscientious about where the food comes from, people are going to respond to that."
And people have responded. The restaurant has grown by 25 percent each year since its opening, and they have a loyal following of customers who return time and again, and they bring their friends.
Their fans feel good knowing that everything in the restaurant is either recyclable or biodegradable -- including to-go containers and utensils.
It's an expensive way to run a business, Roy admits, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"We simply drew a line in the sand," he said. "We have to charge a little bit more and make a little bit less because these are our core values."
Another core value is that everything is made fresh, and that means it's going to take longer to prepare than it would at a fast food joint. Nectar is not fast food, so sit back, have a drink, and visit with your friends while you wait for the deliciousness to appear.
Roy reads the Yelp reviews every day, though, and he knows there are people who want their food faster, so he's coming up with a few grab-and-go items to add to the menu in the near future.
But for the most part, customers are not only willing to wait, Roy said, they're grateful.
"Everybody just glows about something," he said. "Would I get that kind of response if I ran a regular pizza place? That enthusiasm? I don't know."
Nectar Cafe is located at 948A Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn. For more information, visit Nectar-cafe.com.