by Gary Glancy Read the article directly from BlueRidgeNow.comJULY 24, 2010 — SHELBY Pasta made of fresh zucchini? Organic, raw energy bars? Chocolate pie made with avocados?
In the land of barbecue and livermush?
Here in Shelby, vegan diets don’t exactly blend, which makes the location of Hallelujah Acres’ headquarters stand out — just like the Christian-based ministry itself.
Hallelujah Acres is many things. It’s a restaurant, and a health-food shop with a smoothie bar. Eventually it will become a housing development, hotel and conference center. But most of all, Hallelujah Acres is the epicenter of a diet and healthy lifestyle that its founder, the Rev. George Malkmus, hopes will be adopted by as many people as he can possibly reach.
In 1976, Malkmus was diagnosed with colon cancer, a disease that killed his mother.
“He was going to go the medical route, but he didn’t because he saw what happened with his mother (being treated with medication) and he decided he didn’t want to do that,” said Scott Laird, management consultant at Hallelujah Acres. “A friend who was a health nut encouraged (Malkmus) to eat raw vegan foods — take all the meat and the sugar and the dairy out of (his) diet — and see what happens.
“He did it, and the cancer disappeared. That’s when he started telling everybody. Nobody listened until 1992, and that’s when all this kind of started.”
That year, Malkmus and his wife, Rhonda, opened the first Hallelujah Acres vegan restaurant and health-food store in Rogersville, Tenn., a rural town of fewer than 5,000 people, with Rhonda preparing the food and George waiting tables. The storefront was 11 feet wide and sat just 16 people. The following year, the restaurant expanded — as did Malkmus’ message promoting the diet — and by 1994, the ministry side was growing so fast that the restaurant closed so Malkmus could focus all his time on spreading what he calls “God’s health message.”
Now 77, Malkmus travels throughout North America — by car — giving seminars about the Hallelujah diet and lifestyle. Once a month, Malkmus speaks at the home base in Shelby — routinely drawing 200 to 300 people per seminar.
Tiffany Hughes of Spartanburg, S.C., Hallelujah Acres’ marketing director who went to high school in the main building where the ministry and restaurant now reside, said folks come from around the Southeast to hear Malkmus speak. She said attendees often stand up to share emotional stories about their own experiences with the diet, which they say has helped them defeat everything from cancer to arthritis to obesity.
As for Malkmus, while greeting lunchtime diners at the restaurant recently, he told one table, “I haven’t had a cold (in more than three decades) since I started on the diet.”
While the Hallelujah diet would be considered quite restrictive to many — no alcohol, no caffeine (herbal tea and barley coffee are served), no meat, no dairy and no white-flour products — the menu at the Cafe, which started as an organic salad bar and reopened as a full-service restaurant after a fire in May 2009, in is anything but boring.
Patrons can start with one of several salads and a “mock” salmon pate appetizer made with nuts and vegetables and served with multigrain wafers. Wraps, pasta dishes, individual pizzas and a popular black bean burger decorate the next page of the lunch menu, while dessert options include key lime pie, dairy-free ice cream and a sinfully sweet chocolate pie made with carob — a chocolate substitute — and avocados.
“I was very skeptical that (the food) would have good flavor,” said Denise Richards of York, S.C. “The majority of the time when you eat vegan food it’s usually pretty bland, not a lot of flavor, but coming here, oh yeah, the food is VERY good.”
Richards should know. The 43-year-old wife, mother and culinary student at Spartanburg Community College this summer completed the restaurant’s first internship.
“Working here was a great experience and an eye-opener,” Richards said, “because you don’t get a lot of this experience in class. You get a touch of vegan, but you don’t get nearly the exposure or the experience that I received here.”
During his first visit to Hallelujah Acres for lunch one day last month, SCC culinary instructor Clint Button said he was blown away by the quality of the food and the opportunities the restaurant can provide future SCC interns.
Button said vegan dining, with its limited and often bland options in most traditional restaurants, forces students to think outside the box and get creative — like the successful use of avocado in a chocolate pie.
“That’s part of why I was so excited to bring our students here,” said Button, who is also a noted sculptor, “because it’s a lesson in versatility. The kitchen is just, to me, another art studio. That’s all it is. It’s such an opportunity to create.”
Especially when you have the tools — in this case unusual products and fresh herbs, vegetables and berries from an on-site garden.
Button also was impressed with the credentials of Hallelujah Executive Chef Kirk Talley, who once worked as a chef at two well-known country clubs.
Still, “At Hallelujah Acres, in less than a year, I’ve had more education than I had in my previous 20 years in food service,” Talley said. “There is so much stuff that you’re going to learn here that you will not get in a regular restaurant. We use products and ingredients that most chefs will never use.”