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The Vegan: Amber Poupore, owner of Cacao Tree

The People Issue

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It wasn't too many years ago that eating out as a vegan in metro Detroit wasn't a particularly satisfying experience, as it involved choosing from dishes like a baked potato with salt and pepper, or a side salad.

But times have changed. Detroit is now recognized as one of the nation's most vegan-friendly cities, and there are dozens of restaurants to choose from that offer an enticing selection of vegan dishes.

That can partly be attributed Amber Poupore spreading the vegan gospel, and she does so by the most effective means possible: cooking people good food.

During the last 17 years, Poupore managed Inn Season Cafe, a vegan favorite in Royal Oak that she grew from a small spot to a regional attraction and nationally recognized restaurant. When she departed in 2010, she opened Cacao Tree, a popular raw vegan and vegetarian restaurant in downtown Royal Oak. Five years later she established her second vegetarian and vegan restaurant, The Clean Plate, in Shelby Township. And last year, she consulted for the owners of Ferndale's Green Space, and she's now in the process of opening a new kitchen that will allow her to expand her restaurants' dinner menus and her growing catering business.

But while the restaurants Poupore is involved with are beloved within the vegan community, she says she makes her biggest impact while doing cooking demonstrations, giving lectures, and doing educational outreach at corporate events. It's in those settings that she convinces people who might not have ever tried vegan food — or think it's weird — that it's delicious.

"You want to give someone an actual tangible experience of eating really fresh food and not make it so much about being vegan, but eating good-tasting food made from good ingredients," Poupore says. "I get so much fulfillment from showing people that vegan food can be delicious. I'd rather invest in that than an advertisement. That's how I build my clientele. It's a strategic business move, but it gives me an opportunity to do what I love, which is teach people about eating vegan."

Beyond that, Poupore also got involved in a program in New Mexico in which she's part of team of doctors and dietitians that's trying to prevent and reverse diabetes in Native American communities. What's worked best is veganism, which is why the doctor in charge of the program continues flying Poupore out to develop a curriculum for people to transition to a plant-based diet. As part of that, she does around 25 cooking demonstrations on her nearly bi-monthly trips, and she says the results are starting to show.

"You can tell people all day long how good for them it is, but until you give them the tools to do something and a taste of the food, it doesn't set in," she says. "Everybody's like, 'Oh my god it's so good. And this is so easy.' A couple of them finally went vegan and they started having all these amazing health benefits."

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