The restaurant has changed its name, menu and ownership. But one essential aspect remains the same — stellar salads.
Four years since its Medford debut as Grilla Bites and a scant six months since its reinvention as Organicos Natural Cafe under new owners, the East Main Street eatery still is known for its singular salad bar. Priced by weight, salad components number about 50, from homemade dressings and croutons to quinoa and pasta salads. The vast majority of items are organic, and a growing number are offered at peak season, procured from local sources.
"A lot of times, it's what we find at the growers market," says Organicos co-owner Julie Moore. "Maybe you didn't get to the farmers market, but you can have something that came from there that day."
Seasonal fruit is one food Moore and husband, Russ, added in abundance to the salad bar since buying Organicos in May from Harlan Ward. While pineapple, sprouts and some pickled items are among the restaurant's few non-organic ingredients, the Moores have started highlighting certain items, including Whistling Duck greens, with the additional distinction of being locally grown.
Newcomers to the Rogue Valley, the Moores purchased Organicos with the intent to foster more relationships within the area's agricultural community. Formerly of Corvallis, the couple had spent a year traveling the country laboring for Habitat for Humanity when, visiting Medford and Ashland, they ate at Grilla Bites with their vegan daughter, who suggested they buy into the chain based in Chico, Calif. When the Moores contacted Ward, he offered them his restaurant under the moniker Organicos after severing from Grilla Bites.
Since serving Ward's menu, which was revised to offer more gluten-free options, the Moores made more changes this fall and planned to unveil an expanded breakfast menu for the start of classes at nearby Rogue Community College. Gone are waffles, replaced with breakfast sandwiches, wraps and fruit-and-yogurt parfaits to better serve Organicos' "mobile" student clientele, says Julie Moore.
The Moores also added beef and bison burgers to the core menu of pressed, panini-style sandwiches, hot entrees like quiche and lasagna and daily soup specials. Also set to debut was a "Greek" burger created by Organicos cook Mike Sorenson, whose feta-cheese dressing is the key component. Sorenson is leaving the restaurant to pursue a music career, but the Moores considered christening the burger in his honor.
"Everybody just loved it," says Julie Moore, 51. "It's garlicky — oh, my goodness!"
"It just kind of incorporates the diversity of the customers," says 49-year-old Russ Moore of the decision to add beef to a menu that formerly excluded it.
"Eating meat is not necessarily the worst thing you can do."
Certified-organic bison hails from Full Circle Bison Ranch in Williams, certified-organic beef from Williams' Plaisance Ranch or a ranch near Klamath Falls, depending on which operation can meet Organicos' needs. To bring customers the highest quality, however, the Moores literally go the extra mile, bicycling from their Medford home Thursday mornings to pick up meat orders at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market and hauling goods to the restaurant in a bicycle trailer.
Cycling to almost every destination, the Moores say they hope to soon provide bikes for their employees to ride to work. Meanwhile, Organicos participates in a grant-funded program through Rogue Valley Transportation District that supplies free monthly bus passes for employees of downtown businesses.
Other environmentally conscious initiatives at Organicos include switching from disposable plastic containers for drinks and sauces to biodegradable vessels fabricated from corn starch. To-go boxes are made from bagasse fiber, a byproduct of the cane-sugar industry. Russ Moore, who previously worked in engineering, also instituted composting of all the restaurant's non-meat food waste, which goes to Central Point's Hanley Farm.
"It adds a lot of time and labor ... and our crew just took it right up," says Julie Moore.
Although such measures often add cost to the already higher tab for certified organic food, prices on Organicos' new menu haven't gone up, say the Moores. In some cases, eating in-season foods from local sources that don't come with fuel surcharges saves money, they add.
"It requires convincing your customers that that's a good way to eat," says Russ Moore.
"You have to support these things if you want them to become mainstream and cost-effective," says Julie Moore, who has a background in finance.
Yet for all the changes, the couple says, Organicos garners "continual affirmation" of its healthful, "green" focus — which still finds most customers in line for the salad bar.