Green + Tonic
It’s all about love at Green + Tonic: love of real food, love of nourishing the soul as much as an empty stomach, and love of sharing a meal with others. Cai and Jeffrey Pandolfino, the husband-and-wife team behind the health food restaurant, exude an affection for what they do and how they do it. “We make this food with a lot of love and heart,” says Cai. “We just love to feed people. There’s great joy in bringing people together around a table and feeding them.”
It is this love affair with food that originally brought these two passionate people together. Jeffrey, a culinary school graduate who has worked at prestigious kitchens and food retailers, and Cai, with a background in management, entrepreneurship, and restaurant marketing, met at a restaurant opening in New York City. Their first date followed afterward at the celebrated James Beard House.
In 2003, they went out on their own and opened Plum Pure Foods, an all-natural catering business and café in Cos Cob. However, as their family quickly grew, the hectic nature of the catering lifestyle lost its luster. Cai and Jeffrey wanted a greater emphasis on well-being for their family, so they pivoted, sold the business, and dove into a healthy lifestyle with research and lots of recipe testing. As they started feeling better and achieving their own sense of balance, something else was rising up inside them – a desire to share it with others.
Thus, Green + Tonic was born. It started out small, with rented commercial kitchen space in Stamford and personal deliveries of a three-day “Reset Plan” of juices and meals to friends and friends of friends. In 2012, with a growing customer base and a like-minded investor, Cai and Jeffrey opened the doors to the first retail location in Darien. “Not everyone is going to cook,” says Cai, “but that doesn’t mean they can’t come together to share a meal.” This is where Green + Tonic fits in, offering busy people a way to enjoy wholesome, fresh, seasonal food without the work.
The menu is extensive, featuring juices and nut milks, superfood smoothies, hot and iced drinks, various kinds of bowls – acai, smoothie, and grain-based – as well as wraps and rolls, breakfast starts like chia pudding and overnight oats, salads, soups, snacks, and “heat and eat” meals like lentil Bolognese and veggie burgers, plus desserts. At Green + Tonic, plants come first; so, yes, it’s technically a vegan eatery, but the Pandolfinos shy away from labels. “We’ve failed if someone tells us, ‘It’s good…for vegan food.’ It should just be good food. Period,” says Cai.
Green + Tonic is committed to sourcing organic, non-GMO, local, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Again, Cai and Jeffrey want to forgo the labels, because at the end of the day, not everything can be local – acai berries and bananas don’t, after all, grow in Connecticut. And when it comes to produce, the Pandolfinos prefer fostering relationships with local farms, even if they’re not officially certified as organic. However, anything listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables is always organic at Green + Tonic.
There may be a strong food philosophy underlying the why and how of Green + Tonic, but tossing away labels and the preconceived notions that go with them gets to the heart of Cai and Jeffrey’s vision. “No judgments. Just food that’s good for you and good for the planet,” Cai explains. “It’s an opportunity to experience new flavors and new foods and bring people closer to their food.”
As for the future, the Pandolfinos are along for the ride and plan to continually evolve. “I’m totally psyched when people say they are dying for a Green + Tonic where they live,” says Cai. Currently, there are five locations, and the pair hinted that more are in the works, but they are being careful about growth. “We don’t want to lose the magic,” says Cai. “We’re enjoying the journey. I love this job.”
Green + Tonic: locations throughout Fairfield County; 855-464-2638
This article was produced in partnership with Local Food Rocks