The recent Cornell grad and California native exemplifies this generations excitement towards small business and the rapidly increasing percentage of businesses owned by women.
Upon walking into Nikki Green one feels calm, clean and craving matcha. The East State Street cafe is an open space with natural greenery set on tables and strung up on the walls as an intentional addition, making customers feel healthy upon arrival. I stopped by the cafe on a Friday afternoon to talk to owner, Jacqueline Falkenberg. We sat in a nook with a rustic barnwood coffee table topped with books on veganism and happy lifestyles. The recent Cornell grad and California native exemplifies this generations excitement towards small business and the rapidly increasing percentage of businesses owned by women.
Growing up Jacky’s mother was a vegetarian and in turn attempted endlessly to to convince her daughters of the same lifestyle. For a time, Jacky ate interesting food, going into restaurants and asking, “What’s the weirdest thing you have on your kitchen right now?” introduced her to fish liver, petrified shark and even an ostrich. Although Jacky’s sister, Nikki, isn’t a vegan (or as food-adventurous), the name for the restaurant comes out of inspiration from her to make plant-based diets more accessible.
“So I decided the best way to do that was to open a vegan restaurant and not necessarily call it vegan,” Jacky says. “I wanted to have all these great options that people could come try and eat more plant based meals.”
As Jacky has been successfully breaking down some misconceptions of being vegan, she loves that people continuously come into the restaurant even if they aren’t living off a plant based diet. One of her goals is to showcase that one can be full without meat-based protein or a larger meal. In order to make the menu more accessible for those who aren’t always in for a salad, Jacky integrated some of the things that she’s used to making everyday like smoothie bowls.
“In California we have smoothies and smoothie bowls all the time so there was going to be some of that on the menu as well,” Jacky says. “The lattes are things that I picked up from traveling and going to different vegan places.”
A lot of the pull Nikki Green gets is from its appearance. While scouting out locations last year, Jacky’s supportive professors pushed her to get the perfect location. As it sits a block off the main strip of the Ithaca Commons, the restaurant gets a lot of foot and motor traffic. As well as a lot of heads peering into its welcoming store-front nook.
The same way she gained ideas for the cuisine, Jacky went to New York City to scout out decor ideas. Although she found the whirring blenders and all white decor of Jamba Juice strange, she took inspiration from its instilled sense of clean in her own cafe.
Jacky sighs with just the thought; “I wanted Nikki Green to be a place where you walked in and you felt home-ey. You felt relaxed and immediately got that feeling.”
Jacky’s 13 to 14 hour days at the restaurant are soothed by the setting she created along with the help of her employees. She says as local, fantastic people, they all put in their best effort:
“Whenever we have downtime we’re making desserts or inventing new things. We have these ‘Nacho-daddies-Nachos’ right now and it’s sweet potato, nacho cheese and spiralized vegetables and all these things. You get the big construction workers in here and they’re like, ‘I’ll have the nachos’ and we have to warn them.’”
Other than in-restaurant, Jacky has been receiving a lot of support within the restaurant community of Ithaca. Since her family lives across the country and many friends have moved away since graduation, she’s been getting a lot of advice from other business owners to their food distributor. If there’s one challenge involved, it’s being the youngest.
“I think being really young and having a business is way harder than I ever thought it would be. You know you’re contacting people and they’re like, ‘Can i speak to your mom?’” She sighs and palms her forehead, “‘Just no... A lot of it has been trial and error more than having time to ask people and waiting for them to get back to me. But professors have always been a huge help to me.”
As time goes on Jacky wants to make sure that the State street location is the best it can be before moving on to new things in the restaurant business. After I interviewed her, Nikki Green started delivering, selling smoothies and started implementing their wine and beer list.
In the end, Jacky says this: “It’s so easy and I love the food I’m eating. I’m super excited about it and it’s beautiful and it makes you feel good which is the best part.”
Check out our video where she teaches me how to make a smoothie bowl!
Photography: Aly Kula
Videography: Ian Landrigan