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Mall food with a mission

Buying a smoothie from a new restaurant in the Rogue Valley Mall didn't just placate Amanda Metcalf's kids during a day of shopping.

That sale — along with everything else purchased, every day, at Basil and Berries — helps to alleviate childhood hunger locally while supporting local farmers and other area businesses. The dining concept is the first launched by Gilded Rogue Enterprises, one of Oregon's first B corporations, a classification that allows them to operate between the realms of for-profit and nonprofit to benefit their communities.

"You can have business that can do social good," said Elizabeth Bauer, president and founder of Gilded Rogue.

In the case of Basil and Berries, Gilded Rogue is taking a two-pronged approach to ensuring food security in Southern Oregon. Ten local farmers and five specialty producers supply the goods for the fast-casual menu at Basil and Berries, in the former location of Extreme Fresh in the mall's food court. For every meal it sells, Basil and Berries donates one meal to feed a hungry child in the Rogue Valley.

"We want to help bring down that cost "¦ by supporting more local farmers," said Bauer. "If we're not profitable, then we're not proving this business model out."

Basil and Berries meals are priced from $6.99 to $8.99, from which the business contributes 24 cents to ACCESS, which thanks to various donations can supply one child's meal for that price, said Bauer. Create-your-own sandwiches, wraps, salads and rice bowls are the cornerstone of the Basil and Berries menu, which also features a few "signature" dishes, such as a salad with beets and goat cheese, along with fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, desserts and a $4.99 kid's meal.

While a Basil and Berries smoothie satisfied Metcalf's kids, their mom was persuaded to order a grilled-cheese sandwich with apple, bacon and caramelized onions. For $7.99, the sandwich with Tillamook cheddar was a tad expensive, said the Medford resident. But the quality surpassed anything else she expected to find in the mall.

"I don't really like eating at these other places," said Metcalf, 28, explaining that she assumed, based on Basil and Berries' location, that it was a chain.

"I thought it looked like somewhere I eat," she added, pointing to chandeliers fashioned from Mason jars. The décor blends sleek, chic tile and metallic fittings with rustic, wooden frames around the menu chalkboard.

The eatery would be a no-brainer in Ashland, said Bauer. But from the get-go, Gilded Rogue had its eye on the former Extreme Fresh location, for several reasons.

"It's a food desert there," said Bauer. "There's not a lot of choices for healthy food."

Eating a green salad with chicken and cranberries grown in Bandon, Barbara Masters agreed, calling Basil and Berries a "healthy alternative to everything else."

"I think I've tried every place in the mall, and I like this one by far the best," said the Klamath Falls resident. "It was delicious "¦ really good."

A restaurant owner for 18 years, Masters said she didn't choose Basil and Berries for its philanthropy but thought it has a "nice concept."

"We always eat here," said Masters' husband, Earl Masters, of shopping trips to Medford. "So I'll eat there again — like the idea."

The idea only stands to spread, said Bauer, as Gilded Rogue looks to expand Basil and Berries to another location this year. It's also laying the groundwork for Gastropublica, another local-sustainable restaurant that aims to source foodstuffs within a 50-mile radius, said Bauer, adding that no site has been secured, nor opening date set for that venture. Gilded Rogue is backed by a handful of local investors, she said.

"We need to show them that we can outperform," she said. "We should be able to do this right in other locations as well." Much of the Basil and Berries business strategy, however, originated with employees, not investors, said Bauer. Along with their own job titles and menu, the restaurant team wrote its own budget and has done much of the legwork for identifying suppliers, she said.

"This is very much ground-up."

Paying each worker at least $10 per hour, Gilded Rogue fielded 100 applications for Basil and Berries, which opened in mid-April, said Bauer.

"We're always looking for people with a passion for food." For more information, see www.basilberries.com.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Julie Newman and her daughter, Elana, 18 months, of Medford enjoy a roasted veggie burrito from Basil and Berries, a new restaurant with a new concept at the Rogue Valley Mall. - Jamie Lusch