This Royal Oak Café Offers an Oasis for Local Vegans

Health-centric food and drink options shine at Cacao Tree

Seven years ago, Amber Poupore was stopping by a juice bar near the railroad tracks in Royal Oak when she learned through one of the restaurant’s employees that the business was available to purchase.

After talking to the owner over the phone, she stopped by again at 10 the next morning with a deposit in hand. She transformed the business, and Cacao Tree Café debuted a couple months later. Poupore had worked at Inn Season Cafe, the venerable vegetarian restaurant just a few blocks away, for 11 years, starting as a dishwasher and ending up the manager.

“Everyone should start as a dishwasher,” Poupore says, adding that it is the most important job in any restaurant.

Photographs by Jacob Lewkow

A vegetarian for 20 years, Poupore is an advertisement for a plant-based diet, with her glowing complexion and shiny hair.

Those who don’t know the vegan lifestyle tend to think of it as restrictive. After all, it includes no meat, no eggs, no dairy. A conversation with Poupore can set them straight. “It’s not rabbit food,” she says. “It’s a whole world of food.”

She ticks off what vegans do eat: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, beans, legumes, seed and nuts, and grains. She says she learned about the lifestyle by “immersing myself in reading about it,” at a time in her life when she says she was 50 pounds overweight.

Poupore, who also owns the Clean Plate on Hayes in Shelby Township, works about 80 hours a week promoting veganism. And not just locally. She does speaking engagements and cooking demonstrations, and periodically goes to Santa Fe to participate in the Native Food for Life program, teaching Native Americans about nutrition, a project that is dear to her heart.

Phone the Cacao Tree and the background music is of whirring blenders. Juice drinks, made with frozen organic fruits and no ice, are among the most popular items on the menu, along with wraps in sprouted grain lavash or brown rice gluten-free lavash, and salads, all with a choice of six house-made dressings.

And of course, there are the shots — from wheatgrass straight up to a “firebreathing dragon” that adds ginger, lemon, turmeric, and cayenne.

The space is small, so much of the fare is for carry-out. But Cacao Tree is a pleasant little place with counter and table seating. The friendly staff can discuss the menu, of course. The price structure — juices are $8-$9.49, wraps $11-$14, and salads $11-$12.50 — is not inexpensive. But loyal patrons, and there are many who stop by every day, know they are getting quality fare.

204 W. Fourth, Royal Oak; 248-336-9043. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Closed Sun.