The pandemic changed a lot of life paths, and for Barbie Beltran and chef Jose Guerrero, the lull in regular work allowed them to dream of healing the mind and body through nutrition, mediation, massage and other practices. The result is Sacred Society, a wellness bodega opening in April 2023. But before the brick-and-mortar spot opens, the team is bringing its food to the forefront.
“We sat down and connected what food is and how it is sacred on the family and friend aspect, friend aspect, and the things that get our stomach and minds to homeostasis,” said Guerrero, who formerly worked as the executive chef of ViewHouse Eatery, Bar & Rooftop. “We (are exploring) the things that cause that, and we started adapting these ingredients into our dishes to make sure they have a purpose.”
Starting in late October, Sacred Society will be cooking out of ChefReady, a ghost kitchen in Platt Park, 1468 S. Cherokee St. That way, said Guerrero, the healthy food featured at the upcoming wellness center can be available now and for delivery. The push, he added, comes because he and Beltran haven’t seen much of this type of fare on the fast-casual and take-out market in Denver.
“I was looking at Uber Eats for something healthy and hummus pops up,” said Beltran. “People need healthy food. A lot of us are at home, working at home, and we want to order something healthy.”
Jensen Cummings, founder of Best Served Creative, the consulting group managing the launch and build of Sacred Society, added, if you Google “healthy food in Denver,” IHOP comes up because it has an egg white omelet.
“That showed me there was a desperate need for us to reimagine what healthy food means,” he said.
All items on the Sacred Society menu are gluten- and soy-free, and start out with a vegan base, said Guerrero. Plus, he added, many ingredients will be sourced locally.
They have whimsical, spiritual-sounding names such as Spark, a fruit board; Shimmer, a drink of vegan oat milk with turmeric and spices; Stunning, a coconut cream chai drink; and Balance, a lemon yogurt bread. Juices run $7; signature smoothies start at $10; lattes and tea start at $5; boards are $14; and there’s a kids’ menu running $8 for a healthy spread of meat, cheese, fruit, veggies, dip and crackers.
Bowls with ancient grains or rice are topped with a protein of choice, such as roasted chicken, citrus-marinated mycelium, salmon or steak, and start at $9. Each of those carries a flavor theme. For example, Path contains Mediterranean-inspired ingredients such as charred onion, caramelized carrot, roasted red bell pepper, zucchini, pickled cauliflower, olive, garbanzo bean and oregano pesto.
Beltran, Guerrero and chef Daniel Westfall, culinary leader of Sacred Society, have been working hard to make sure the food they’re serving actually is healthy, too. The focus is on adaptogens, those plants, herbs and fungi often used in herbal medicine to help the body process stress, anxiety, fatigue and other mental and physical ailments.
Along with Cummings on the consulting side is Denver chef Matthew White, who studied nutrition and worked in kitchens for more than 25 years. His philosophy surrounds the idea of making meals that not only taste good, but do something for your body, too.
“Feeding people to me is one of the most intimate things you can do for another, as it’s something you literally put inside another person. So providing an experience beyond dazzling the taste buds, there should be care into how this meal will also impact a person’s vitality,” he said, using the example of how fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi add umami and also get used so the body can absorb more minerals like magnesium and zinc. “What we eat plays a role on not only our physical health but our mental and emotional one as well.”
The idea for Sacred Society started with Beltran during the pandemic when places were shut down and many people were sequestered in their homes.
“I was looking for a space to recharge my spiritual batteries, somewhere peaceful to disconnect, but I didn’t really have a place,” said Beltran. “I talked to Jose about some of the ideas I was having, and at first we talked about having a grab-and-go wellness cafe and having a spa towards the back with massages and facials, but then I wanted more.”
More, it turns out, comprises a whole spiritual package, from hypnotherapy to reiki massage to sound baths. While the cafe component remains the forefront of Sacred Society, as the concept develops the team hopes to have it be part of the whole mentality of the space. Come for mediation, have a recharging snack, maybe a gut-healthy smoothie, and then get a massage.
“It’s a whole-health bodega,” said Guerrero. “You will walk in and feel serene based on the way our layout was created, it guides you throughout the experience.”
Eventually, said Guerrero, the team plans on being able to talk to customers to find out dietary needs in regards to allergens, sensitivities, mental reactions and how ingredients overall make the body feel. This is where the adaptogens come in. But, added Guerrero, the cafe will also be a place to just get a good bite to eat knowing the food doesn’t contain extra sugar, soy, gluten or chemicals.
The plan is to also integrate the app MyMeal (findmymeal.io), which breaks down all the ingredients into dietary categories so a customer with restrictions (for example nut allergy, gluten-free or cilantro-free) can come in and know exactly what foods they can eat.
“I don’t want to come across as a nutritional guru or anything,” said Guerrero, who added he studied ingredients and the nutrition behind them, but doesn’t claim to be an expert. “We want people to feel, when they are done, full, fulfilled and recharged.”
Whether customers go to Sacred Society for a health and wellness overhaul or just to get a matcha latte and blueberry-kale salad, there’s no wrong way to enjoy it. Beltran said she just wants people to have access to healthy food and, when the wellness center is open, they can find their own spiritual path if they want to.
Sacred Society plans on opening for pickup and delivery from ChefReady starting Oct. 26, pending inspection and all those other aspects that go into launching a brand. Customers can view the menu online at sacredsociety.com, where orders can be placed once it officially opens.
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