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Eden’s Cafe, an all vegan grab-and-go on West Broad Street, closed its brick and mortar on Dec. 22. (©Sofia Gratas, sofigratas@gmail.com)

Nick Bradfield caught a documentary about vending culture in Japan and China shortly after he opened up Eden’s Cafe in the summer of 2019. A longtime member of the Athens music community, Bradfield was fascinated by the concept of vending readily-available products for consumers as a way to provide better-quality ingredients and foot higher wages for employees.

Inspired, Bradfield bought a vending machine, set it up in That Bar on West Clayton Street and hoped for the best.

Five months after the initial opening of Eden’s Cafe, Bradfield announced the fully-vegan grab-and-go restaurant would shut its doors shortly before Christmas, citing an “unsustainable business model” as the primary reason for the restaurant’s closure.

Bradfield explained it was difficult to isolate the closure to any one reason, but noted high rent prices in relation to the usability of the space, declining sales and an inconvenient location were contributing factors.

“I think we maybe went too far — a niche within a niche with trying to source things organically and locally, which drives up the price, and it’s difficult enough to have clientele,” Bradfield said.

Prior to the restaurant’s initial opening, Bradfield and co-owner Julie Hutchins experienced a number of issues that continually delayed the operation of Eden’s Cafe, including health and building code complications, insufficient space in relation to the planned menu offerings and a limited budget.

To satisfy both health and building code requirements, the owners changed their full-service business model to grab-and-go with plans for expansion. The restaurant opened in August, six months after the restaurant’s planned opening.

At the end of the day, Bradfield said, he and Hutchins did not want the grab-and-go format. Amid low sales and persisting operational issues, Bradfield decided to go back to the drawing board instead of “losing a ton of money and hoping and praying” the space would work out. The restaurant officially closed on Dec. 22.

Though Bradfield is interested in looking for other investors to launch another fully-vegan restaurant in Athens, he questions if there is enough demand for an ethical vegan business model to sustain itself.

"It’s still a really big risk, so it would have to take a group of people who are willing to put it all on the line,” Bradfield said. “It’s a tough business, it’s the toughest one there is, I’d say.”

In the interim, the Eden’s vegan brand will operate as a vending machine supplier, Bradfield said. Without the Eden’s Cafe kitchen space, however, Bradfield cannot vend made-from-scratch items, so he has switched over to stocking prepackaged retail items, including Amy’s Kitchen meals and vegan yogurts.

Though Bradfield notes the sales at That Bar are slow and he is “flat broke at this point,” he plans to place a second vegan vending machine at Rabbit Hole Studios, a cooperative art and music studio on Old Commerce Road.

“I would just love to create a food service that is ethical and sustainable,” Bradfield said. “That can take many forms — I’m not sure which one is going to be financially possible for me. But for now, I’m happy having the little vending machine.”

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