Yoga and waffles

Oak Park's sole all-vegan restaurant is also a yoga studio

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

You've done your downward dogs and your sun salutations and a few cobra poses for good measure – now it's time to treat yourself to some ice cream and waffles.

At Oak Park's Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Café, where healthy living and cruelty free eating are a way of life, patrons can get the best of both worlds.

The studio, which opened in October at 146 Harrison St., is the brainchild of owner Nicole Sopko, who recently relocated her old studio, Yoga Trek, which was across the street at 911 S. Lombard for 13 years.

She also owns Nature Yoga Sanctuary, 2021 W. Division St., in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago. Both the Chicago and Oak Park operations are 14 years old, she said.

Sopko, who subscribes to an all-vegan diet – no items from animals allowed – said she made the restaurant portion of the Oak Park business vegan for ethical reasons.

"You will only ever find vegan and cruelty free products for sale in our shops and café," she notes on her website.

Sopko said she tried to create a menu that "wasn't the stereotypical menu you'd see at a yoga studio."

That's why Nature Yoga Sanctuary offers menu items like waffles, seitan pepperoni pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and banana splits with soy ice cream, among others.

Patrons also can feast on more traditional vegan fare, like the Sanctuary Bowl, which includes chilled fried tofu, cucumber, romaine lettuce, carrot ribbons and shredded purple cabbage topped with red chili thread, fresh mint leaves and sweet sesame chili sauce.

Everything in the café is nut free and "most items contain no onions or garlic in accordance with a yogic/Ayurvedic diet" according to the menu.

Several of the menu items at Nature Yoga Sanctuary include ingredients from Upton's Naturals – that's because Sopko is vice president of the Chicago-based natural-food company she runs with her partner, Daniel Staackmann. Upton's produces a variety of vegan meat alternatives such as Italian Seitan, Thai Curry Jackfruit, Thai Curry Noodle, and meatless burgers.

The couple also runs a restaurant in the city, Upton's Breakroom, 2054 W. Grand Ave., which recently also served as their main manufacturing facility.

They expanded the Upton's operation to a two-and-a-half-acre, 42,000-square-foot facility in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago that was previously used to produce Green River Soda, Sopko said.

The move gives Upton's Naturals room to grow, Sopko said, noting that the company's products are distributed in the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Sopko said she's glad to have stayed in the Oak Park Arts District on Harrison and is excited to see so many new businesses opening.

Nature Yoga Sanctuary is the first business to move into a number of recently renovated properties in the business district being rehabbed by Harrison Street Ventures. Harrison Street became majority owner of several properties in the 100 and 200 blocks of Harrison that were long-owned and undeveloped by now-minority owner Chris Kleronomos.

Harrison Street Ventures is now building four live-work spaces, known as Flexhouse, with Ranquist Development, between 200 to 210 Harrison St. and redeveloping commercial spaces that bookend the row houses. Those properties are expected to be completed later this fall.

The transformation of the business district began in 2016 with the redevelopment of the former La Majada Mexican food restaurant, 226 Harrison St., by Brand and Company. That building is now occupied by Happy Apple Pie Company, Tapster Robotics, Tom Bassett-Dilley Architects, Ltd. and District Kitchen & Tap.

Among the new businesses coming in on Harrison are Mora Asian Fusion, 210 Harrison St., and Rare Bird Preserves, which produces preserves, curds, scone mixes and more.

"We're so excited for all our neighbors to open," Sopko said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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