Hey, Kokomo. You’ve got me. I now see what all the fuss is about and I am a little sad that I didn’t check you out on the day you opened. Alas, we have finally met and a beautiful romance has begun.
Let’s paint a picture, shall we?
There once lived a lady named Katie Ruddell. Six years ago an idea was planted. An idea that had been pulled from her dreams and created over a lifetime of experiences. Six years ago, Katie said out loud, “in 5 years, I will have my own business.” And so it is. Katie’s ‘business’ journey really began when she starting working at lululemon in Brand Strategy, 5 years ago. A natural born dreamer and visionary (if you’ve met Katie, you’ll know what I mean by this), during her time at Lulu Lemon, the momentum for this dream grew. Katie has always loved food. She’s been a vegetarian ever since she can remember and finds a lot of joy from creating a delicious and colourful bowl of nourishment. After her own issues with digestion and migraines, Katie started a journey of cooking for herself to heal her body and bring more balance into her life. Some of us remember this stage of her journey through lululemon’s snapchat and instagram stories featuring Katie and her kitchen. In fact, many of the menu items are re-productions of Katie’s staples that she survived on. The idea evolved- a cafe. This business idea of hers, was to be a cafe. A place of community, delicious food and a whole lot of sunshine and summertime. And on June 26th, 2017- the doors opened to this dream come true.
Now, there’s a lot more to the story, including a lot of conversations, time, back and forth, name-changes, mentorship and location changes. You know, the standard business stuff. And the thing about Katie and Kokomo is that there is a certain element of ‘magic’ that you can’t really explain in a story. It’s in the food, it’s in the vibes, the community that shows up and the speed at which this food establishment became such a hit in Vancouver. It’s home; nestled in the east neighbourhood of Strathcona in Vancouver, Katie worried at first that it might not be the ‘right’ spot. Clearly, an example of how we are guided beyond forces of the mind in a direction that might not always make sense at first. Now, this neighbourhood is a Vancouver vegan/holistic hub, home to Vegan Supply, Cafe Dalina, Virtuous Pie, Umaluma Gelateria, and Tight Club (to name a few).
So where did Kokomo come from?
Everyone loves a perfect name story. Luckily, Katie keeps it real and shares that there wasn’t ONE moment when Kokomo came in and they knew it was the name. Instead, it was a few weeks/months of going back and forth on names, trying them on for size. It wasn’t until Katie had decided against Kokomo and was onto another name that she bumped into a friend from her think-tank night and was reminded of how great the name was. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Walking into Kokomo is basically like stepping into Hawaii or California. Even on a rainy winter day, it feels like you are embraced with sunshine. The only thing that is missing are hula hoopers, coconuts and the beach boys singing ‘kokomo’, but honestly- you almost see it all when you are there (something about that ‘magic’ mentioned earlier).
Apparently the entire idea came while Katie was in San Diego eating acai bowls by the meal. When she returned to Vancouver craving a delicious bowl of creamy acai, she was shocked to discover that no one was really doing them (well). After having a chat with Zach Berman (hey, Juice Truck), trying to convince him to do them- she realised that maybe it was up to her do it. Maybe this was the idea. With the help of Vancouver chef Brian Skinner (the Acorn) and some other incredible people- the menu was created and the idea was manifested.
It’s hard to believe that Kokomo has only been open for 4 months. There is already such an established community of people who come every single day and Katie says that some of her closest friends now are people who she met since opening Kokomo. There is a real authentic sense of community and support going on in that little Strathcona hub. During our visit (this #RestaurantStory adventure, I was joined by Emily Davies of Wholesome Slice), Katie introduced us to several people including customers and staff. One of which is her chef Shaun Maclean. Now this is a cute story. Friends since high school, Shaun took it to himself to venture over to Strathcona and find out what all of this instagram fuss was about. He poked his head in the door/window of Kokomo and that was that. Before they knew it, Shaun was spending more time at Kokomo- and began assisting with his professional background in hotel catering and kitchen skills. That’s the thing about Kokomo- it isn’t just a business where people work. It’s a place where friends hang, and work together- and create delicious food along the way. Now an integral part of the business, Shaun clearly loves being a part of the team and assisting Katie in making her food dreams come true.
Ever since Kokomo opened, I basically haven’t stopped hearing about and seeing snaps of the Hemp Ceaser Salad and the Coco Whip. Needless to say, they were at the top of my #musttry list. Kokomo’s menu is simple and easy to follow- as you walk into the space it is clearly scribed up on the wall, under it’s subheadings: Salads, Macro Bowls, Desserts, Drinks. Given the time of year (#raincouver) we opted against the acai bowls and dove head first into all of the macro bowls. Each macro bowl is a base of brown rice and greens and is then topped with an array of colours, flavours and textures. Taking photos of the food was basically the easiest thing in the world- Kokomo has mastered all elements of #foodpornphotography.
One of the staples of the menu as well, is the Golden Laksa. The moment I heard Katie mention it, I remembered that she spent some time in her childhood living in Singapore. As soon as she mentioned it, I knew that the laksa had to be good. I too grew up in South East Asia (Kuala Lumpur) and used to spend my days eating delicious, authentic, street-food Laksa. This one did not disappoint. A vegan and holistic version of the classic dish- the broth is perfect.
- The Hemp Caeser Salad (crispy shallots!) It truly met the reputation it holds
- The Golden Laksa I’m a sucker for a laksa and anything turmeric and soup- a staple
- Ginger pickled cabbage in the Coastal Bowl so much flavour wow I could eat it all day
- Edamame hummus in the Coastal Bowl a great play on hummus and the perfect addition to this bowl
- Marinated tempeh (#YUM, Tempea) I LOVE Tempea’s tempeh and Kokomo has slayed the flavours with this marinated and baked version
- thai ginger sauce (yup, I think you’re starting to realise that I LOVE the Coastal bowl- this sauce flavour is so potent and yummy)
- Coco whip with banana cream pie topping the coco whip already wins and with the vegan caramel sauce, cacao nibs, and banana coins- this dessert slays.
Feast Your Eyes
(The Golden Laksa, Hemp Caesar Salad, The Coastal Bowl, The Med Bowl)
8 Fun Facts
- Seeds over nuts: when possible, they use seeds over nuts to avoid the allergenic food and make the menu more approachable and friendly to everyone. So, where you are used to having coconut, cashews, almonds or peanuts- you will find more seeds. This includes the acai bowls which have a creamy sunflower seed butter instead of almond or peanut butter!
- Weekly features: Every week they change the feature to offer a new item created with local/seasonal in mind and what the team is feeling called to make. This week, for instance, is a roasted zucchini soup with roasted garlic and almond. Yum!
- Catering: Kokomo is already set and in motion for catering and larger events. Last week I attended a lunch n’ learn at Native Shoes and Kokomo catered the lunch with a full set up of their salads and bowls. It was epic.
- The Tree: if you’re staying in to eat, you will likely bump up with the characteristic tree. He makes his home on the east corner of the community table and since opening has grown quite substantially, making ample opportunities for selfies and plantified-food-photography. The story is, when Kokomo was in it’s creation phase Katie told her interior designer that she wanted a large tree in the centre of the space. To which, the designer said it wouldn’t work (given the size of the space). In the theme of magic, ask and you shall receive. The tree made Kokomo his home and is planted in the centre of the communal table and is certainly the centrepiece of Kokomo.
- Fatherly visits: Since opening, Katie’s Dad basically does the drive from Burnaby every single lunch and brings his crew with him. Katie said, “I’m pretty sure he has the details on Kokomo in his email signature”. Katie also shares that her whole family has shifted their approach to food and health through her indirect inspiration and offerings- be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Cocowhip: As of now, Kokomo is the only place in Canada to be serving up this vegan soft serve. When Katie was in Australia and tried some, she knew that she had to bring it to Vancouver. One of Katie’s strengths (clearly) is in noticing gaps in the market and taking it upon herself to bring these delicious offers to us. Thank you Katie!
- Katie grew up in Singapore: There are a LOT of similarities between Katie and myself. And one thing that really ties us is our backgrounds (and how many connections we have in our social circles). Katie grew up in Singapore. I grew up in Kuala Lumpur. You will notice that Kokomo does a good job of working with spices and herbs and especially those of the Asian kind. Not only that, there is a real mix of flavours and textures, that you definitely experience in South East Asian cuisine.
- The Mint Choc Chip smoothie is a creation by one of the lovely ladies in the kitchen team, Dakota Holmes, and includes a scoop of Nora’s Ice Cream (fun fact, Nora also went to school with Katie and Shaun). She was playing around and making herself a smoothie one day and boom- a popular menu staple was created!
Ok, Coco-Whip, it’s time:
This Australian native is coined the ‘original healthy soft serve’ and is made with coconut water, organic bio-fermented coconut powder & probiotics & vegetable sourced stabilisers. It is a completely dairy, soy and gluten-free product and is 100% vegan. What? I know, right? This is real soft-serve. Vegan or not vegan. The best part is the toppings that Kokomo has created. Again, they shift the toppings seasonally (summer time = berry) and right now, alongside the classic coconut there is a apple pie spice & a banana cream pie. We chose the classic and the banana cream pie. I’ll be making my way back soon to try the apple pie (wanna share with me?)
And, that’s it folks!
If you aren’t already en route to Kokomo or scheduling a lunch date for this week- I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Yup, it’s that good.
Until the next Restaurant Story- I’ll leave you with some photos of a new friendship between Katie and I. It looks like we’ve been buddies since childhood, doesn’t it? It feels that way.
Ps. if you have a restaurant in Vancouver (or somewhere in the world), feel it aligns with Chloe’s Countertop and want me to cover the story- email me at email@example.com
P.p.s Love to Emily of Wholesome Slice for being my partner on this trip and taking these CUTE photos of Katie and I x