On a sidewalk in the heart of Clinton, Massachusetts, on a drizzly day with hints of fall in the New England air, a woman stooped down to converse with the youngest daughter of Nicole and Victor Broushet, the owners of the Vegan Nest Café restaurants. The woman’s eyes crinkled in the corners as she bent her cloud-gray head to listen intently to the toddler’s broken phrasings. An older sister, on the verge of kindergarten, sauntered over for a hug and conversation. The sounds of daily prep and smells of cooking food wafted from the open door of the café, setting the backdrop for the slow but steady traffic of cars and pedestrians — and the hushed conflab.
About a half hour later the woman appeared on the sidewalk again, this time with a bag containing small toys for the two girls and their older sister, who had been digging through large puzzle pieces in the children’s nook of the café. Happy smiles later the three children carried around little pink ponies with tiny hairbrushes. On this day the woman did not stop for a bite to eat in the now-open café; she had just wanted to “visit” for a spell.
“She’s a customer, but also a member of the community. She likes to bring things, toys or treats, for the girls. A lot of people who come here do. It’s like a family,” Victor said with a smile when I asked about the exchange. “That’s our community.”
And make no mistake, while the Broushets run two restaurants in Massachusetts, with the second one opening in July 2021, they are involved in so much more that they hesitate to define their cafés — and their career paths — as traditional.
“We consider what we do medical missionary work,” said Nicole. “And it’s about creating community. We’re not just a restaurant. I always joke about how I actually forget sometimes that we are a restaurant, because we have all of these other aspects.”
And even though Nicole admits that their family works hard and long hours, it is an investment with incredible returns. “It’s such a community-oriented space that it doesn’t feel like work.”
Nicole shares that the platform for their restaurants is that they seek to draw attention to the issue of food insecurity and health inequity — and looking at disparities in how people have access to food, how people have access to education around food, and the associated health outcomes. “Whether it’s socioeconomic lines, racial disparities, whatever the case may be, there are many ways in which at different times different people are left out of the questions and issues around food. That’s something very important to us to address through the café,” she explained.
The Vegan Nest Café explores these issues in several different ways. The Broushets conduct culinary and nutrition education through cooking classes. They host Freely Given Tuesday, where customers “pay” what they are able, even if it is just paying kindness forward after receiving a free meal. They collect donated food and help stock refrigerator boxes of free food around the cities of Worcester and Clinton. They also do advocacy work: making sure that people in the community know what things are available to them, helping people obtain important information, and advocating for the people who may have suffered adverse health outcomes and need a voice.
“Our cooking classes are a big way we share that we love to cook, and we love to show other people how to cook,” said Nicole, as we see a couple of customers receive steamy plates of tofu sandwiches and vegan mac and cheese with microgreens. “We love to show them how to make things not only delicious but nutrient-dense. God has given us natural remedies — a means to be able to help heal the body, or at least do as much as possible within our human power to be able to keep ourselves well. We show people how to combine different foods to get the most nutrients out of it. This helps in healing, avoiding disease, and maintaining a basic level of health.”
It’s More Than What You Eat
While the Broushets are adamant that a plant-based, nutrient-rich diet is vital, they say it goes deeper. They believe that God is so relational and loving that He not only cares about what happens to us in terms of salvation — He also cares about day-to-day decisions that can help or harm us.
“Our food choices and our health decisions impact not only our physical health but also our relational health, our emotional health, our environment. All of these different aspects are touched by the decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis,” said Nicole, referencing 1 Corinthians 10:31. “When I realized this, it opened up God in a really awesome way for me. God and I are on this journey together, and recognizing this has really allowed me to experience God in a very intimate relationship.”
“That is the essence of the health message,” she explained. “Surrendering every decision, every aspect of our life, to God and understanding that, as Creator, He knows what’s best for us.”
Victor agrees. “And as an Adventist, you’ve got to know what to do with the health message, and that the relationship with God can come from following it and surrendering to Him,” he said. “Every Seventh-day Adventist should have some training in medical missionary work to handle those type of situations — not just for strangers, but for your extended family, your immediate family, and yourself.”
From Texas to Massachusetts, by Way of New York
Nicole grew up in a Christian home; and her passion for clean eating started early. “I grew up in Texas, which is big on farming and cattle and all of that, and my kindergarten field trip was to a slaughterhouse,” she shared. “Going through that experience, I was absolutely horrified. I made the decision that day that I would abstain from eating animals.” While Nicole didn’t know the proper terms until much later, she did, in fact, become vegan. As she continued to mature she also started focusing on the environmental impact and the health impact, but didn’t connect her beliefs with her faith until she met Victor in her early 20s.
Victor, an electrician from New York City, was raised Seventh-day Adventist and explained that eating healthfully was a principle espoused by the Adventist Church. “I told Nicole that this is something that my church really believes in, in terms of eating healthfully and being mindful of what we eat — and that there’s actually a strong spiritual component,” said Victor.
When Victor shared his thoughts on the health message, Nicole was surprised to learn that there were people who lived for Jesus and didn’t eat meat. So she started studying.
“At first, we were living for ourselves — not really interested in church. Her dad got us back into going to church. Then my dad encouraged us to go with him,” Victor said. “But it wasn’t clicking for me yet. I finally got to a point where I said, God, I can’t do this the same way I did it before. You’re going to have to show me something different or I can’t be a part of this. And He did. From that moment I’ve had a supernatural experience. My entire family has had a supernatural experience with God from that day forth.”
“I came into the health message first and then into the Sabbath truth. Then pretty much right after we got married I made the decision to be baptized,” Nicole added.
Nicole, an organizational psychologist working in the nonprofit sector for large NGOs and conducting leadership development, conflict resolution, and group dynamics, enjoyed eating healthful and delicious food. It wasn’t until Victor’s dad became terminally ill that she and Victor had the opportunity to explore more fully the connections between health and diet, and then take a medical missionary training course. The couple both finished the training, then started a small “sanitarium” out of their little New York City apartment.
Nicole shared that in those early days “we would have people stay with us; and we’d help them with different things that they were struggling with. Whether it was high blood pressure, mental health disorders, struggles with HIV and AIDS, or people just having issues with maintaining a healthy weight because of medications, we’d work with them, assisting them in a practical way to apply simple methods to help bring about healing and spiritual revival. From there we started going to schools, universities, and businesses throughout New York City, where we’d teach about nutrition, health equity, food accessibility. We’d spend our time predominantly in the food-insecure areas — food deserts in Brooklyn, the Bronx, different parts of the city — exposing people to the things that would be able to help prevent or overcome disease.”
As the Broushets continued teaching, people would ask them to cater. Nicole dedicated herself full-time to the ministry of education and cooking. Eventually their meal preparation grew to catering for 1,000 people — out of that little New York City apartment — and realizing two things: they enjoyed it, and they could actually do it. “That’s when we really started praying in earnest,” said Nicole. “And we started digging into the Old Testament, looking at the kings of Israel, the rise and fall of the various kings. We started looking at leadership and purpose and how these various men were called to certain things and whether or not they fulfilled their calling — and how it impacted the nation around them. We kept praying.”
One day during this time the Broushets were driving down a beautiful autumn road in the middle of the city when Victor turned to Nicole and said, “The Vegan Nest.”
Nicole replied, “Yeah. Sure. But what is it?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But it’s in my head. The Vegan Nest.”
When they got home, the couple created a Facebook page called “The Vegan Nest.” They started posting all kinds of health information. People were reading and interacting with the material. And the Broushets started to cater more, and do pop-up events, which allowed them to reach more people. “We did vegan festivals, pop-ups; we drove down to Tennessee to Coffee Fest with our herbal coffee. We eventually did an event in New England, and one thing led to another. We were not planning on opening a restaurant, but here we are. Four years later we are happy to say that we have not only one but two locations, and we’re growing.”
“We had an unexpected opportunity in Worcester — a miracle, really,” said Victor about their first café, which opened on November 5, 2017, near a pharmacy school and next to an Irish pub. “And I’m like, ‘I’m all in.’ I immediately quit my union job. I said, Lord, I know You have this. You’re my pension. Whatever money I had accumulated over 28 years was exactly enough to take over the place.”
A Pandemic, Prayer, and a Food Truck
The Broushets have established themselves as community members who know their neighbors by their first names. Willing to listen to those in need gives them the opportunity to make friends and share their expertise — and their faith — to those who in turn are willing. Often even the simplest of exchanges leads to prayer.
And those prayers with and for others often lead to miraculous answers for all involved.
“We’ve had employees who’ve come to know Jesus through working here with us,” said Nicole, sharing that several, along with family members, have either joined the church or are in Bible studies.
“We’ve had customers come in and see something that needs fixing and help us with it,” she continued. “And we’ve seen how God works during the pandemic.”
The couple signed the contract on the Clinton location on March 5, 2020. On March 10 everything started shutting down because of the pandemic. “It was like a bad movie,” Nicole said. “We were getting pings and messages and notifications with friends in the business saying they were shuttering their doors, laying off their staffs, and closing down. It was scary.”
Nicole recalls standing with her phone in hand when Victor came over and gently put the phone down. “We’re going to pray,” he said. And they did, rededicating the café to the Lord.
The Broushets worked 80- to 90-hour weeks. They struggled to keep their staff, putting a halt to the second location buildout. They were concerned about their customers and friends. Then the Lord gave them the nesting box concept. With the nesting box campaign, they’d check in with certain customers they knew that had health situations to make sure they had what they needed, and the Broushets and their staff delivered boxes of food.
“It was hard. And it’s still hard,” said Nicole. “But I do know and trust in God’s goodness.”
And God’s not done yet. “We just received a grant from the Boston Celtics, Vistaprint, and the NAACP to fund a food truck, which we plan to use to provide food equity,” Victor said. “Although it’s a small portion of what we need to build out the entire food truck, it’s a start. And that’s how God works, you know? He gives us the start, and we must be patient, and then He’ll provide the rest. I have no doubt that God’s going to provide everything we need for the community food truck.”
“Our goal is to create this arm of the restaurant that will be able to go into low-income neighborhoods, to rural communities, and provide food, completely donation-based, fair exchange, throughout the week,” added Nicole. “We’ll be able to make sure that people have access to healthy food. As part of the program, we’ll also be able to share information and guidance, and provide counsel. We plan to have trained medical missionaries come on board and be there to be able to offer these services. It’s going to be an incredible opportunity to connect with communities here in New England.”
Nicole continued, “I like to say it’s truly a highways-and-byways type of ministry, going out and doing what we can to reach everyone. Building community. It’s that breaking bread together.”
We pause as Nicole greets a customer she hasn’t seen in months. She approaches, and the uniformed worker beams. Nicole listens as the man updates her. She encourages him to try a special dish. He does, and, with a lift in his step, carries his carryout container across the warm brick-and-wood-accented dining area to his waiting delivery truck.
“We are still learning every single day,” she added. “But the incredible thing is that God is on this journey with us, and He is responsible for our success. We just have to step forward in faith. It’s kind of a back-against-the-wall situation. You’re either going to do it or you’re not. And when you make that decision to go forward, there is no going back.”
“We’ve put our faith in Christ and will just keep going.”