Eugene’s Cornbread Cafe heading to Springfield with second vegan restaurant

SPRINGFIELD — Cornbread Cafe, a popular vegan restaurant in Eugene, plans to open a restaurant in downtown Springfield next year.

Owner Sheree Walters has signed a lease with the owners of the Stevens-Perkins Building on Main Street and she plans to spend the next several months constructing a Cornbread Cafe on the first floor.

The restaurant, at 338 Main St. next to Plank Town Brewing Co., will feature the Eugene cafe’s menu, supplemented with Cajun and Creole inspired vegan dishes, such as muffuletta sandwiches and gumbo.

“We’ve always been Southern inspired so we are really going to go with that,” Walters said. “This particular space in Springfield just spoke to me. It screamed the New Orleans version of Cornbread Cafe. We will go with the Cajun-Creole theme.”

Walters said he hopes to have the restaurant open about the time of Mardis Gras, which takes place next year Feb. 9-13.

The new restaurant is “going to be great, but it’s definitely going to be a long process until we open the doors,” she said.

The 3,000-square-foot space in the 106-year-old Stevens-Perkins Building was previously used as storage for the adjacent Econo Sales fabric and upholstery store.

Walters estimated it will cost more than $200,000 to convert the empty space into her restaurant. She plans to open in phases, staring with a kitchen and dining room and later adding a bar and stage for live music.

Cornbread Cafe opened at West Seventh Avenue and Polk Street in 2011 in the building that for many years had housed Deb’s Drive-In. With its “vegan comfort food” menu, the cafe’s most popular items include “The Eugenewich,” a Southern fried tofu patty with vegan toppings, “Chik’N-Fried Tempeh & Gravy,” a Southern-breaded tempeh served with cashew gravy, and “Chik’n & Waffle,” breaded and deep-fried seitan on a waffle served with gravy and maple-agave syrup.

The restaurant gained wide recognition after being featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

“People come from all over the country” to the cafe, Walters said. “People actually contact me (by email) from all over the world.”

Walters said she wants to open a second eatery because the Eugene restaurant seats only 36 people inside, and the booth seating doesn’t allow parties of six or more.

Walters said she chose downtown Springfield because many Cornbread customers live in Springfield. She also wants to participate in the revitalization of the business district.

Walters has an investor in the Springfield restaurant — Shaun Noonan, owner of a vegan restaurant and food cart in Orlando, Fla. Noonan will own 20 percent of the Springfield Cornbread Cafe, she said.

Downtown Springfield has attracted several merchants and restaurants during the last 10 years, with a recent wave of redevelopment that followed the opening of the Plank Town Brewing Co. four years ago.

“I have actually been looking here pretty casually for the last couple of years,” Walters said. “I really like the historic district section Springfield. I am a bit obsessed with things in the past.”

Earlier this year, Walters began talking with David Loveall, an owner of the Stevens-Perkins Building, about the possibility of leasing the space.

At first, she thought it would cost too much to develop the restaurant, but Loveall said he’s giving her a “generous discount” on rent “because, frankly, it’s an empty box that was going to need everything.”

Loveall said he and his friend and partner in the building, Bob Miller of Southern California, are “landlords that try to find creative ways to help tenants achieve their dreams.”

With the rent break, Walters “gets some flexibility with finances and we get a really nice remodeled space,” Loveall said. “That’s what we are about.”

Walters said that she expects to use the architectural services of Jenna Fribley and Kelsey Buzzell of Campfire Collaborative Architecture & Design in Springfield to design the interior of the restaurant, and Jeff Desler of Pasquarelli Construction of Eugene as the general contractor.

The news about Cornbread Cafe is the second recent announcement by a Eugene business with plans to locate in downtown Springfield.

Simply Cycle, a bike shop in downtown Eugene, plans to move by October to the recently renovated Fry and Rankin Building, across the street from the Stevens-Perkins Building.

Follow Ed on Twitter @edwardrusso . Email ed.russo@registerguard.com .
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