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It was never in Melanie Seder’s plans to open a restaurant. When she opened the first Good Food cart in April of 2010, she had a vision for what her business would look like.
“I wanted the breeze in my hair through the screen door of a food cart I owned and operated all by myself,” she tells me from the bustling office of her newest venture: The Good Food Low-Carb Café located at 4674 Cottage Grove Road.
"I just wanted to sell healthy food.”
Over the past seven years, Seder has served delicious healthy meals to Madison out of two busy food carts—one on Capitol Square and another on Library Mall—and through a non-stop catering business. But a lot has changed since her initial vision for this venture. A simple dream of manning one cart by herself has given way to the hiring of a chef, a team of 18 employees and someone to co-own the operation.
The size of her business isn’t the only unexpected change for Seder. Something else changed in a big way: Her vision for what healthy food looks like.
Enter Kory Seder, a 6-foot-5-inch former nutrition counselor and Melanie’s husband as of May 6.
The couple met in the winter of 2015. Their first date was a dinner he cooked for her at his home—a delicious low-carb feast of scallops and mushrooms, peppers stuffed with sausage and double chocolate cupcakes (which were sugar-free, grain-free and made in a blender). The meal was rich and fatty in the most satisfying way.
With each bite of this low-carb meal, she grew curious about the handsome athletic man eagerly serving her foods counter-intuitive to what she had defined nutritious. In the decades Melanie had been focused on eating healthy, she always thought healthy meant low fat and low calorie.
On this first date, which lasted several hours, the couple talked endlessly about good food and the ways their life surrounded it. She told him about her food carts and her passion for bringing healthy, affordable and fresh food to Madison. He told her about his Type I diabetes diagnosis in 2012 and how this diagnosis had inspired an education in nutrition, ultimately leading him to adopt a low-carb lifestyle and become a nutrition counselor for a private M.D. near the Wisconsin Dells.
For many months, their relationship continued to grow in the kitchen. After 10-hour days at the Good Food carts, Melanie would return home to spend her evenings cooking dinner with the new man in her life.
“It was meat and vegetables all the time. Salads with a protein or veggies with a protein. A lot of fat. Veggies were not eaten for their own sake anymore. They were a vehicle to eat fat,” she says. “[We didn’t] just eat broccoli. [We] ate broccoli drenched in garlic butter,” And it was delicious and nourishing, she says.
Melanie dove into educating herself on the health benefits of eating limited amounts of carbohydrates and sugars. The couple read books together including “Wheat Belly” by William Davis and “The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz. They watched lectures and listened to audiobooks. Melanie was falling in love not just with Kory, but also with the low-carb lifestyle. Without effort she lost the 10 pounds she’d wanted to lose her whole life, she says, and then she lost another 10 pounds. She went from being pre-diabetic to having completely normal A1C levels (a measure of blood sugar). She had never felt healthier.
And yet, the wraps that had launched Melanie to success were still largely filled with carbs and added sugar. It nagged at her. She had started her business with the goal of serving healthy good food to the people of Madison and no longer felt like she was doing that.
On a flight home from Las Vegas to visit family for Thanksgiving, Melanie told her (then) fiancé that she was ready to change the menu at her carts to something lower in carbohydrates and added sugars.
“I was like, ‘Why are my food carts selling Sweet Thai Chili [wraps]?’ It’s a sugar bomb. It’s got the word sweet in the title. Sweet Potato Pleasure, the same deal. There’s honey in the balsamic, sweetened dried cranberries, [and] candied walnuts. There’s sugar on the sweet potatoes. I’m not happy about any of that. I’m not happy ordering sugar by the 25-pound bag,” she says.
The Good Food kitchens were set to move across the city to a space on Cottage Grove Road in February. Melanie decided this was her opportunity to create a low-carb concept at a small restaurant space and mimic the new menu in her carts.
Some people would think a move across the city and the opening of her first brick-and-mortar establishment (that still needed to be renovated) alongside a May wedding would be enough to fill a spring schedule, but bold has always been Melanie’s style. She took to rethinking the menu while searching for her wedding dress.
And this time she had someone alongside her. Her soon-to-be husband quit his nutrition counselor job and joined the business. While she worked on getting the new kitchen up and running alongside a myriad of other things required for opening a restaurant, her fiancé was building the space.
Kory redid the bathrooms, built beautiful wood counters, painted everything and created front of house operating procedures. He hired and trained the front of house staff. He built out the office Melanie and I sat in recently to talk.
The couple jointly opened the Good Food Low-Carb Café on April 3, greeted with a line out the door. The menu, elegantly written on huge menu boards along the wall when you walk in, is not about feeling guilty or trying hard to eat healthy. Salads, wraps and Zoodle (zucchini noodle) bowls join chicken wings, flatbreads and spinach artichoke dip. You wouldn’t even realize you were eating low-carb if they hadn’t told you. It’s just good food.