WAY DOWN IN KOKOMO
CHINATOWN'S NEW BEACH-THEMED CAFÉ
Kokomo is a winsome new addition to the Chinatown/Strathcona neighbourhood. The area has had a significant influx of new cafés and eateries sprouting up over the past couple of years, but none quite as vibrant and refreshing as Kokomo. We’d like to get you excited about Kokomo for two reasons: their robust vegan food (the whole menu is “gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan, and largely nut-free”) and that they are open for lunch. Serving up bowls and smoothies from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm Kokomo offers early birds the opportunity of a nourishing breakfast on their dash to work.
Walking up to Kokomo, you immediately feel like you've stepped into a breezy beach café along the sweltering coastline of Bondi Beach. It’s a kaleidoscope of colours with baby pinks and soft whites, hits of vintage blues, and pops of bright orange. Freelance interior designer Shiloh Sukkau was the creator of this summer-inspired space that mirrors Californian spirit.
Centred in the shop is a large, white freeform communal table; striving to be community-based, Kokomo invites you to get to know the people around you while you sit to eat. A dark bamboo planter pokes up through a cutout in the table giving way to a beautiful, substantial palm that soars to the ceiling.
Adding to the tropical vibe, their Kombucha is served in vintage-inspired frankie amber CB2 glasses. Kokomo's room-width entrance is served by a rolled up storefront door, which opens up the whole shop––though we're curious to see what they come up with when winter hits. The breezy concept will likely need an overhaul after the brisk weather comes our way.
Kokomo's founder, Katie Ruddell has been a vegetarian since around the age of 5, but she began to cut dairy from her diet about 5 years ago and realized how much energy she regained after switching to a more clean, plant-based mode of eating. After a trip to San Diego where she first tried an Açaí bowl, her friends pressed her to sell the trendy superfood dish back here in her hometown of Vancouver.
A former Women's Global Brand Lead for Lululemon, Ruddell knew she wanted to eventually break off on her own to open a vegan café. Her main mandate is to inspire others to eat the same clean way, but to keep it easy and playful rather than preachy and unapproachable. A year later, enter Kokomo: a bright, open, summer-themed space offering always-evolving plant-based bowls both savoury and sweet.
Ruddell's goal was to bring nutritious eats to the active millennials of Vancouver. She felt that with all the new gyms, cycle clubs, and yoga studios mushrooming across health-conscious Vancouver, a plant-based brunch spot would meet the city's wellness demand. Just down the street from Kokomo, EcoRide, Diaz Combat Sports, and Tight Club Athletics also call the Chinatown and Strathcona border of Gore Street their home. To Ruddell, the pairing couldn't have felt better.
"The kitchen is working on a few new flavours for the Açaí bowls" an employee and friend of Katie tells us upon our second visit to Kokomo. "I'm most excited about adding cherries and blending our Açaí with different types of nut butters, like sunflower or almond." While Kokomo's current menu tilts more toward salad bowls, they're noticing that people are keen on the smoothie-like, purple-fruit option.
Açaí bowls come from Brazil where the Açaí palm berry of the Euterpe tree is picked, mashed, and then frozen. The fruit's name is derived from a Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ïwaca'i, loosely meaning a fruit that 'cries water'. Açaí na tigela--which translates to "Açaí in the bowl"--when served as a breakfast meal, is typically topped with sliced banana, granola, and guaraná syrup. Kokomo serves theirs with berries, toasted coconut, and their house-made, raw, buckwheat granola.
Kokomo is also Canada's first café to serve up the Australian-sourced dessert known down under as CocoWhip™. The coconut cream-based vegan ice cream boasts a coconut shell fermentation process of the notoriously hydrating coconut water, with organic biofermented probiotics for gut and intestinal health. It is often touted as a highly nutritious superfood completely free of dairy, soy, and gluten--but it tastes like ice cream.
Ruddell had her first try of the treat when she was travelling throughout Australia and was instantly hooked. Vancouver's astonishingly long lineups for ice cream joints must have been a sign--just drive by Ernest Ice Cream on Quebec street, or Rain or Shine on West 4th any summer afternoon--because Ruddell thought that bringing this treat back to Vancouver for sweet-tooth vegans would be a hit. She was right. Almost every Kokomo patron walks out with a scoop or adds it to their Açaí bowl. Ordering one, we're offered a choice of toppings: Apricot compote, matcha powder with pistachio, or cacao and raspberries, all of which change daily.
To keep the menu evolving in the right direction, Ruddell brought in a master: Chef Mark Singson. Singson came from a much-celebrated sous-chef position at the award-winning AnnaLena and honed his skills at Glowbal, Coast, Sanafir, the Oakwood, Boneta, and Oru. Passionate about food as well as art (via music and fashion), Singson is mod, exuberant, and fits perfectly into the culture Kokomo has already created: young people excited about eating well.
Chef Singson prepares one of his favourites: the Caesar Salad. Its surprisingly-creamy dressing comes from sunflower seeds with hemp puré; rather than chicken it features deliciously marinated onion chickpeas. Kokomo's Coastal Macro bowl serves up brown rice with perky kale, delightfully seasoned tempeh, smooth squash, edamame hummus, and--our favourite--ginger pickled cabbage. Kokomo has also teamed up with The Juice Truck, creating an invigorating charcoal lemonade that we highly recommend after sampling one on our initial visit to Kokomo.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on August 4th, 2017.