In the Spotlight: Caren Baginski and Evan Merida

By Kelly Behr

CarenAndEvanNFDC

There are some of those people who come into your life, or in this case restaurant.  

The scene: Glendale opening in October 2013. We are in the midst of our first big opening in the Denver area. Enter Evan Merida. He has no idea we are opening and excitably bounces up to the door.He exclaims that he is vegan and could not be more excited a Native Foods is finally open in Denver. We were not quite open. It was still our pre-opening party going on. I looked at my invite list and then peered into the window. We had room for them. I explained the situation and he was like wait a minute, I still get to come in and it’s all free?! Yes, I said as I handed him an orange ticket. I felt like a dreammaker this day. 

Soon after and as can be expected, Native Foods in Glendale soon because Evan and his girlfriend Caren’s favorite spot. 

Fast forward to September 2014. We are opening our first Native Foods on the East Coast and invite all of our guests to submit a video for a chance to win a trip to  DC for the opening. As we watched all the submissions one in particular stood out. Evan and Caren’s. They did a take of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” It was catchy and very cIever. I thought they looked vaguely familiar but I see a lot of people at all the openings so it didn’t click yet. 

However, it did click when I called them to inform them that they were the winners. Evan exclaims, “Is this Kelly, like the Kelly from Glendale who let us into the opening?!” Yes, I said I was indeed the Kelly. 

Evan and Caren arrived to our DC opening and were even recognized in line which made them feel a tad famous. I saw them again at our Lakewood, CO opening, after opening number 3 we were friends. 

So, for the next opening I personally sent them an email inviting them to our downtown Denver location. Evan immediately called me upon receiving the invite. “Kelly! This is so perfect. I am proposing the Caren that evening and I needed one more thing to do in the afternoon and then I got your email!” 

He was very excited and sweet enough to invite me to their engagement party. It was the first Native Foods engagement I have been a part of and I hope not the last, it was so great to hear their story.

It has been so awesome getting to know this great couple that I made them our January “In the Spotlight” feature. Congrats again Evan & Caren! 

Photo

 

Their “In the Spotlight” Interview:

 

1.) First Native Foods order?
We both had the Chicken Run Ranch Burger with Crispy Sweet Potato Fries. 
 
2.) Favorite food at Native Foods? 
Evan: So many favorites, but right now I’m craving a Classic Deli Reuben. 
Caren: Without a doubt, the Native Nachos. That cheese sauce is addictive!
 
3.) You were the contest winners for DC, how did you come up with the idea? 
Evan: I came home from work on a Friday night and Caren showed me the contest announcement and suggested a parody of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” At the time, it was the most popular song on the radio. That night, we didn’t go to bed until the lyrics were written. We finished the music on Saturday, and filmed and edited the video on Sunday. That kind of crazy action only takes place under massive inspiration, and our obsessive love of Native Foods was just the right thing to make it happen! 
 
4.) What was your favorite part about the DC experience? 
Caren: While we were ordering food at the DC grand opening, the cashier and some guests recognized us from our video! I felt like a mini-celebrity all night. 
Evan: Meeting the executive team of Native Foods. We’ve now eaten at seven locations, and it’s exciting to know the people behind the brand. 
 
5.) Tell us a little about the engagement and how Native Foods was (kinda) part of it.
Evan: I had the entire day/night planned except for lunch, when I got the email invitation for the Pre-Opening Party at Denver Pavilions. We stopped in after a hike in the mountains. There was something magical about the timing. Did I mention it also happened to be a full moon that night? 
Caren: I thought he was going to propose in the restaurant, because he mysteriously disappeared for a moment. I pulled out my phone’s camera to make sure I didn’t have sesame seeds in my teeth, but it turned out he was saving the actual proposal for later that night at the place in Denver where we had our first date. I said yes!
 
6.) Any advice you guys have for vegan newbies? 
Caren: Making a change in your diet and lifestyle is easier when you’re around others who share your values. When I first went vegan, I didn’t know anyone else who was, so I joined a meet-up group, ordered top-rated vegan cookbooks, and started bookmarking vegan food bloggers’ recipes. I discovered many new-to-me tasty foods (kale chips!) and relearned how to cook. Keep an open mind when trying new foods, knowing your tastebuds will change over time.
Evan: I believe a plant-based diet is better for your health and the environment. It’s also good to know the food you eat doesn’t come from or contribute to the atrocities of factory farming. The point is not for the food to taste like meat but to satisfy as much or more than meat. Eating at Native Foods will show you this is not only possible but easier than you’d think. 
 
Anything else you want to mention that you think would be a cool part of the In the Spotlight feature or for the blogs. 
Evan’s YouTube channel, The Foolish Feast, is a pro-vegan place for food, music and good clean fun. You can find Evan and Caren’s contest-winning video there. Also, our little dog Willow absolutely freaks out over carrots and kale. She takes yoga photos with Caren at www.carenbaginski.com.

 

 
 

 

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