By Michael Wallen
Joshua Alderson has worked as a chef for 20 years. In the late 1990s, on a day he doesn’t remember precisely, he decided to become a vegetarian. As you might imagine, life got difficult. The work suddenly felt unethical. Plus “it was hard to find food prepared in a way that was appetizing,” he says.
Today, with over ten years experience as a vegetarian chef, Alderson owns Morning Glory Café. Located at 450 Willamette Street, Morning Glory embodies the spirit of Eugene, Ore. Activist Misha Dunlap opened it 15 years ago, eventually selling it to go to law school. Keystone Cafe veteran Gail Brown owned it from 2003 to 2010. Keystone was where Alderson started cooking vegetarian ten years ago, and that connecting got him a job at Morning Glory in 2007. When Brown wanted to sell, he wanted to buy.
There are other cooks in the cafe, but most days you’ll find Alderson hard at work in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up on a snap-front collared shirt. Morning Glory is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. On the lunch menu, Triple Lucky Noodle, a peanut sauce stir-fry, is his favorite dish to make.
Breakfast is where Morning Glory shines, though. The dining room is crowded until around 11:00 a.m. and Alderson is having fun in the kitchen, in his element as orders come for vegan fusion omelets and challah bread french toast. He says those are the most fun to make.
Alderson says people in Eugene have always wanted to embrace Morning Glory. 15 years ago, it was a little hole in the wall. It had just a few tables, the kitchen and a bathroom covered with notices of upcoming protests. Business became brisk under Brown. The building next door got purchased and a hole knocked in the wall, creating the current dining room. Alderson says the place is doing even better now. “Since we’ve taken over,” at the beginning of 2011, he says, “we have seen a real dramatic increase in business.”
After emptying the register at 4:00 on St. Patrick’s Day, Alderson sits down for a tall glass of water with his partner, Claire Johnson. Being both chef and business owner takes a lot of work. Why make the choice to buy it?
“I really enjoyed the energy here,” Alderson says, “I really love this place.”
“I kind of feel it was like part of our family too,” Johnson says.
They’re excited about the future. Since taking over, they’ve expanded how much of the menu is local. All dairy comes from organic farms within 50 miles. The produce comes from organic farms within 100 miles. “It’s going to get that much better when everybody has an abundance of crops,” Alderson says. There are different all-organic specials every month. By the time the dry season starts in June, they plan to have a lot of outdoor seating, in hopes of even more business.
It can be difficult to find healthy, appetizing vegetarian restaurants. Morning Glory is about making that easier. “It’s a small part, but it’s something we consider very unique. There’s only one place like this and we’re proud of that,” Alderson says.