When a restaurant closes, it’s rarely good news. But in the case of Moo Moo’s Organic Bistro, the shuttered doors on the little storefront in Grosse Pointe Park signal a big success.
Opened by Michele Rastelli two and a half years ago, it became a victim of the popularity of her vegetarian dishes for a much wider clientele than could be handled in the space on Charlevoix.
She and her staff were so busy packaging their noodle-less lasagna, sweet potato wild-rice balls, Pacific burritos, and poblano chickpea patties for local gourmet grocery stores and markets, they had to discontinue serving customers who came to the door.
It’s a remarkable story. From the two gourmet markets that started carrying her foods, the outlets have expanded not just across metro Detroit — where they are available in some 40 stores, including Kroger — but to 12 states, thanks to a distribution agreement with Warren-based Lipari Foods.
She had to audition for Lipari, bringing samples of her dishes for a tasting audience of 10 regional managers, who voted on the products and gave her a thumbs up.
Even more exciting to Rastelli is that a company servicing institutions — Chartwell Dining — is bringing her dishes to university and hospital cafeterias, including the University of Michigan, Oakland University, Purdue University, DePaul University, North Central College, and others. That list will be expanded, she says.
Moo Moo’s Vegetarian Cuisine, as it’s now called, has just vacated that quaint storefront for spacious quarters in a 10,000-square-foot former warehouse at 1515 Jarvis St. in Ferndale, where 10 employees are now helping Rastelli prepare and package the dishes.
Moo Moo was the childhood nickname of the 28-year-old native of Fraser, who was brought up by a mother who fed the family “whole-grain cereal and balanced meals geared toward vegetables.” Although there was some meat on the table, she says she always preferred vegetables, so the vegetarian orientation came naturally.
Rastelli, who studied nutrition, fine arts, and business at Wayne State University, says: “I saw a need for healthy gourmet-to-go food. But it’s surprising how quickly it’s taking off.”