You might not expect a chef trained in French pastry–making to own an all-vegan cafe, but that's how Terrance Thibodeaux got his start.
"I went to culinary school to learn about French food, especially pastries. That's my love, making pastries. I never planned to own a restaurant, and I definitely wasn't vegan," Thibodeaux says.
The 39-year-old grew up in the Inland Empire, then moved to Phoenix to attend culinary school. After meeting his wife, Shiloh, the couple settled in San Bernardino, a town famous for its location along Route 66.
"My wife and I came up with the idea for our restaurant because San Bernardino didn't have many healthy food choices. There weren't good options for people who wanted to eat right. We wanted to bring some really fresh, nutritious food to the city," he says.
In 2016, the Thibodeauxs opened a juice bar and smoothie shop. Four years later, they opened a larger eatery, Cafe Organix, in partnership with four-time NBA champion John Salley.
"We met John Salley at the Emmy Awards," Thibodeaux says. "He's a huge advocate for vegan eating. He actually came out to San Bernardino and said, 'You guys really need some vegan food out here.'" Salley, who became a vegan during his years playing professional basketball, agreed to become a partner in Thibodeaux's new venture on one condition: The menu had to be 100 percent plant-based.
Thibodeaux agreed. Cafe Organix serves vegan burgers, breakfasts, nachos, salads, smoothies, and juices, plus espresso drinks and soft-serve vegan ice cream.
"Most of our customers are not vegan. We make vegan foods for non-vegans. These are very familiar foods that anyone can adjust or adapt to. The taste isn't far off what you'd find with a normal protein," he says. "One of our most popular items is our breakfast burger. It's on a brioche bun with vegan egg and Beyond sausage. What makes it so good is the sauce we put on it—it's delicious."
His restaurant may be innovative, but Thibodeaux appreciates old-school eating too: When I have people coming into town to visit, I take them to the McDonald's Museum on E Street in San Bernardino. It's at the site of the first McDonald's restaurant. There's always something new to see, whether it's a new toy they've added to the exhibit, or food packaging, or McDonald's uniforms. It's cool because as a child, everyone had a McDonald's toy. People get excited when they walk around and look at the toys and say, "Oh, I had that one." The museum has more than just McDonald's history—it also explains the history of San Bernardino. It's one of my favorite places to go.”
To break up the nonstop hustle of running a restaurant, Thibodeaux and Shiloh make trips to the pine-clad mountains towering above San Bernardino. "We're lucky to have friends who live in Big Bear Lake. We go up there to hike the trails. It's so close, but it's a world away from the city. You're always near the water, and the trails have great views."
The couple also enjoys downtown Riverside for browsing, barhopping, and people-watching. "It's a great place to walk around or hang out. It seems like there's always an event happening in downtown, whether it's the Festival of Lights, the Tamale Festival, or something else," Thibodeaux says.
For brunch, lunch, or meetings with business associates, they head to Riverside's Mission Inn, a block-long Mission Revival–style building with dramatic archways, courtyards, and flying buttresses. "We like to sit out on their patio," he says. "The food is delicious, the service is great, the surroundings are beautiful. And their mimosas are to die for."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
When you're visiting the Inland Empire, Thibodeaux recommends you don't miss these spots:
Awesome tacos: “If somebody wants to eat tacos, I tell them to go to Mariscos Kikas in San Bernardino. They make coastal-style Mexican food from ceviche to shrimp to octopus, and they have handmade tortillas. Their Taco Tuesday specials are really popular. My favorite is their machaca breakfast burrito, which is filled with literally everything—eggs, shredded beef, bell peppers, rice, beans. It's a really juicy burrito.”
Stroll-and-shop neighborhood: “The college town of Claremont is known as the ‘City of Trees and PhDs.’ It's easy to walk around, most of the restaurants have outdoor seating, and the shops in Claremont Village have something for everyone. If you want to shop for Birkenstocks, a new dress, or handmade chocolates, the village has all of that. If you want to buy a vinyl record, go to Rhino Records. There's even the Folk Music Center, where you can buy a mandolin, banjo, or ukulele. In the evenings, you can see the show of dueling pianos at PianoPiano.”
Farmers markets: “Downtown Redlands has a great farmers market on Saturday mornings. It's a certified market with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, olive oil, breads, pastries, cheeses, teas, and all kinds of great food. It's a huge market. Anything you're looking for, you can find it there. Riverside also has a great farmers market right next to the Mission Inn on Saturday mornings. There's usually live music, and the stalls have tamales, guacamole, local honey, and fresh flowers as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Family day-trip: “Families should definitely drive up into the mountains to Forest Falls. The trip takes about 30 minutes from San Bernardino. It's great for kids and people of any age because it's so easy to get to fresh mountain air and shady pine and fir trees. There's always water flowing in the creek, and it's a cool place to have a picnic or go for a hike.”
Pizza place: “We love Pizza King on E Street in San Bernardino. The owner is the nicest person. When we first moved here, she fed us every single day. For about two months, all I ate was her salad and her pepperoni pizza, which is very simple and delicious. It's a thick-crust pizza, and she makes her dough fresh every day.”