A new ‘Leaf’ – Little Leaf Café owner opening downtown location

February 2022 Posted in Business, Food & Drink

By Melissa Wagoner

When Mersadee Lulay learned The Oregon Garden Visitors Center was looking for someone to take over the garden’s café space she jumped at the chance.

“This was an answer to a prayer,” Lulay said. “God or the universe dropped something in my lap that I couldn’t say no to.”

First introduced to the world of food service as a teenager living in Stayton and working for A&W, it wasn’t long before Lulay set her sights on bigger and better things, working her way up in various kitchens of all sizes across the country, and even working, for a time, as a private chef.

Mersadee Lulay

“When I was young, I was really self-important and put myself out there,” Lulay said. Describing the ways in which her younger, perhaps more fearless self was able to take on challenges and learn skills that she is thankful for today.

“But it’s always been a side gig,” Lulay said of the role cooking played in her professional life before she opened her own restaurant and catering business, coined Little Leaf in 2021. “It’s always been something I did along with something else.” 

She worked primarily as a massage therapist for 14 years. 

Providing a full array of specialty coffee drinks alongside a rotating menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps made with both seasonally appropriate and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, Little Leaf has challenged Lulay to explore cooking in a whole new way.

“It’s such an interesting space. We don’t have a grill. We don’t have a hood. We don’t have a fryer,” Lulay pointed out. “But we’re still bringing people back to simple food that tastes good and that’s made with love and simple care.”

And now she’s expanding her audience, from the relatively captive one that is The Oregon Garden’s visitor population, to a more extensive one in the heart of Silverton’s downtown.

“I’ve been telling Mat since this started, I’m going to open a second space in downtown Silverton,” Lulay said, recalling the conversation she had with husband, Mathias Contois, prior to leasing 111 N. Water St. – most recently the home of Live Local Café – as well as the event space next door.

“It’s a fun opportunity to lean on my passion,” Lulay said, referencing not only her talent for day-to-day cooking but for catering as well. “It’ll be a space for people to gather and celebrate and maybe a pop-up tasting room that will give the vineyards access to the demographic of Silverton.

“It’s really about creating a space where people leave feeling nourished in their body and heart and creating a space that’s welcoming and healthy,” Lulay said. It’s her overarching goal for this new arm of her business, referred to as, Little Leaf Downtown. “I’m going for a feeling because you can put food in your body anywhere.”

Little Leaf Downtown opens for regular hours starting March 1, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week. Its first Pop Up Bottle Shop is on March 4 from 4 p.m. (tickets at littleleafcafe.com). Lulay is hitting the ground running, exhibiting the same confidence she first cultivated when she was just starting out.

“I’m excited to create recipes and channel the food gods,” she enthused. “My passion is nurturing people and nourishing people.”

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