|How Lovin’ Spoonfuls Got its Start
by Sunny Holliday, Owner
I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the second child and first daughter of a Polish father and southern mother. My father, a holocaust survivor who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, served in the Russian army and then came to the United States with a limited vocabulary that was laden with a heavy European accent. My own accent developed from a melding of his with my mother’s southern drawl.
|My older brother and I grew up in Flushing, Queens, back when Flushing was a collection of single family dwellings that didn’t feel like New York City at all. Those were the days when glass quarts of milk would magically appear in the metal box on the back stoop each morning, and there would still be the occasional vendor pulling a horse drawn cart down 147th Street.
Hint of Inclinations
The first indication that I might end up in either the field of culinary arts or perhaps chemistry was at a fairly young age, when I would hide in my mother’s pantry and mix various ingredients together to see if I could initiate a reaction. As my brother and I got a little older and my parents felt a foolish comfort in leaving us by ourselves, we would make kitchen experimentation our top priority as soon as they had left the house. Our goal was to be able to create a superior culinary dish, consume it if at all edible, clean up the mess and rid the house of any lingering aromas before my parents’ return. Sometimes we were successful on all counts.
Molding My Future
One of the most influential events that impacted the direction of my life was taking chemistry in high school. I dreaded becoming a high school junior, because I knew that chemistry would be required. As fate loves to play its games of twists and turns, I developed a crush on my chemistry teacher and cut most of my other classes to spend time in chem lab. This obsession carried over into college, where I selected chemistry as my major.
I was accepted at Buffalo State with a Regents Scholarship, and spent several years battling the snow and other elements to first, survive, and then, to get a Bachelors Degree. I worked my way through college at night and on weekends, earning money by cooking chicken for “The Colonel” and waitressing at various restaurants. After graduation, I immediately began what became a thirteen year career with Mobil Oil Corporation.
The Working World
I had started college at the age of sixteen and was still pretty young when I starting working for Mobil, very excited and feeling optimistic about my future, not knowing at the time how poorly I would fit into a corporate environment. Neither did I know that the refinery into which I was hired was very soon to be shut down, and all the employees were to be shipped to other refineries scattered around the country. My landing spot was Torrance, just South of Los Angeles, where the refinery was about three to four times larger then the one I had left behind.
Chemists have a fairly low status in the petroleum industry, and seeing that my opportunities with Mobil would be quite limited in that capacity, I decided to go to night school at Long Beach State to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. Since I had already taken most of the supporting courses for the chemistry degree, I had only the engineering classes to complete. Once that was done, I was moved into the Process Engineering group at Mobil, where I got to experience the full flavor of a corporate world.
A 180 on Lifestyle
While living on the West coast, I became very good friends with Marion, who belonged to a Unitarian Church. During the summer, the minister at most Unitarian Churches is gone, and lay people present the services. Marion was in charge organizing one of these. The presentation was given by two women on the topic of vivisection, the process of cutting up animals for what ever reason – food, medical experimentation, cosmetics testing, etc. Marion asked me to participate in the service by giving a reading. I objected, explaining that as a scientist, I understood the importance of using animals for testing drugs and cosmetics. She showed me the reading. It was Chief Seattle’s Web of Life. I liked it, and since it didn’t conflict with personal beliefs, agreed to read it at the service. I can’t remember exactly what the presenters said that day, but I knew I could no longer finance any industry that utilized animals. I had walked into the service a committed, hard core carnivore and walked out a vegan. It was August 14, 1989.
Sorting Out a New Approach
So what do Vegans eat? I had no idea. I lost a lot of weight trying to figure it out. I did, however, love to cook, and just like when my brother and I were kids, I went off to experiment in the kitchen. The challenge that I set forth for myself was to recreate all of my favorite meals using a slightly different set of ingredients. I would respond to invitations to dinners and parties by asking my host if it would be okay for me to bring a casserole or dessert. I was encouraged by the positive responses that I got, and started to hear comments like “Wow, this is delicious. You should open a restaurant.”
Starting a New Chapter
Eventually I realized that Mobil Oil was not my calling, and I decided to return to school to pursue my first love, chemistry. I was accepted at the University of Arizona, where five and a half years later I received a Ph. D. I accepted a job working for my research advisor, Dr. Michael Burke, who had a small business on the side manufacturing Solid Phase Extraction columns. Since I had worked with these columns extensively in my research for environmental applications, I became the company’s technical support advisor, giving presentations and workshops around the county as well as internationally. At last, a dream job. Almost. The company became quite successful and eventually was sold. My position had in the meantime turned from one with an environmental focus to one having more of a pharmaceutical bent. One of the last workshops that I gave was at a major pharmaceutical company in the UK, where some of the participants asked me how they could use our columns for analyzing canine plasma and rat brains.
I knew I had to make a change. My dilemma was that I had fallen in love with Tucson, where there were no opportunities for Ph. D. chemists. Since much of the work I had done was in the capacity of “trainer”, it wasn’t difficult to find a different job in the training field. I hired into a computer software company as the Director of Training, where I spent the next five years of my life.
Making it Happen
Sixteen years of vegan lifestyle flew by at record speed, during which time I often thought about the possibility of opening a restaurant. My fiftieth birthday was on the horizon as I contemplated how much longer I could wait to set the vegan restaurant ball in motion. I decided not to wait until I was sixty or seventy to attempt the endeavor, and began compiling all of my recipes, putting together a business plan, looking at potential locations and talking with possible investors. I was told by various property managers that they would not consider leasing their space to a start-up restaurant. The owners of a prominent location on Campbell Ave, not very far from my house, were willing to take a chance with me. Before I knew it, I was signing on the dotted line and the die was cast.
So now I am a restaurateur. It’s not exactly what I told people I wanted to be when I was growing up, but it is undoubtedly my niche in life. So many of the things that I value the most all come together at this one point: a venue to prepare great food, the ability to promote veganism and healthful eating while helping to minimize cruelty to animals, and the opportunity to interact daily with new faces and old friends. I am so thankful for all of the elements in my life’s history that have come together to make this all possible.