Words & Deeds

Boise restaurant goes vegan after owner sees graphic, ‘heartbreaking’ animal-rights film

It was past midnight when Maria Bahruth suddenly decided something that could make or break her small Downtown Boise restaurant.

The High Note Cafe’s owner had gotten 15 minutes into watching “Dominion,” a graphic animal-rights documentary available on YouTube. Bahruth, who calls the 2018 Australian film “heartbreaking,” suddenly found herself baring her soul on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“Whatever meat products we have now will be the last sold unless I find a better way,” Bahruth wrote. “I will make the High Note Cafe into a completely vegan establishment in the coming weeks. I do promise to still serve excellent food that everyone can enjoy. If it works out, great, if it doesn’t and costs me my livelihood, then so be it.

“I can no longer go forward knowing that I have supported great suffering and inexcusable practices by the meat/egg/dairy industry. I’m terrified, but I know I’m doing the right thing, and the right thing isn’t always lucrative or safe. All my love Boise, Maria.”

From the day it opened in 2012, the High Note Cafe, 225 N. 5th St., has served vegetarian options. Vegan food had grown to include about one-third of the menu in recent months. But Bahruth hadn’t considered making the High Note fully vegan until the night of “Dominion,” she said via email. (Bahruth declined to be interviewed but answered emailed questions.)

“I started watching it about 20 minutes before the April 26 original post,” she said. “(It) took about 5 minutes of thinking before I made the post at 1 a.m.”

Response has been powerful. Comments are still piling up on Facebook.

“It’s going viral,” Bahruth said. “(I’ve) been messaged from people all over the world with very loving and encouraging statements. Telling me they love me even. It’s been amazing. Greece, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Japan, South Africa, everywhere! It’s crazy. That’s not even half of it. There’s too many messages and comments now to be able to ever read them all, and it’s been 99.9 percent full support.”

The High Note Cafe serves all-day brunch, lunch and dinner. Try a Breakfast Burrito ($11.95): seasoned and scrambled tofu, red potatoes, spiced black bean puree, sweet grilled onions, pico de gallo, green salsa, non-dairy cheese and avocado, served with orange wedges.

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Breakfast Sandwich ($9.75): avocado, seasoned and scrambled tofu, Good Planet vegan cheddar and rosemary black pepper aioli on homemade bread. Maria Bahruth High Note Cafe

At lunch or dinner, veggie fans will happily dig into a High Note Torta ($12.95): spiced black bean puree spread, pickled jalapenos, tomato, cucumber, non-dairy cheese, romaine, red onion, avocado and green salsa on homemade bread. (Add $1.95 for housemade, gluten-free, nut-free bread.)

Want a starter instead of a full meal? Loaded Street Tacos ($9.50) arrive in the form of five black bean tacos topped with pico de gallo, avocado salsa, shredded romaine and dairy-free Parmesan cheese.

Reinventing the High Note’s from-scratch menu has required long hours and considerable stress. The cafe also juggles a live music schedule. But Bahruth is hopeful a Boise vegan restaurant can be successful. “The movement is growing fast,” she said. “There’s not many good options for dining out if you’re vegan.”

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Mediterranean Salad ($12.95): Organic baby spring greens, Kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, pepperoncinis, fresh basil leaves and warm pita bread served with housemade hummus and housemade balsamic vinaigrette. Maria Bahruth High Note Cafe

Thanks to positive reaction from the community, Bahruth says her confidence is growing daily about the decision.

“It’s hard to say what will happen in the future; the industry is a risk under any circumstances,” she said. “But the non-vegan staff loves the new menu, so if they love it, I feel that we will survive.

“... Hopefully more people will watch the ‘Dominion’ documentary or ‘Cowspiracy’ to learn how damaging the industry is, in every aspect of life. It’s not healthy, it’s not sustainable, and humanity will have to adjust sooner or later to a plant-based diet in order to survive. I wouldn’t feed animal products to my own children, and I think any parent that had the facts would agree for the health of their families, if the cruelty alone isn’t enough to change their dietary habits.”

Online: thehighnotecafe.com.

Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman. Since joining the newsroom as an intern in 1991, he has been a sportswriter, features editor and entertainment editor. Deeds also co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.