Niki Yezli grew up surrounded by a family who adored food, who instilled a love of cooking at a young age. Weekends were filled with the aromas of German and Native American delights of her heritage. At age 5, she began helping in the kitchen. At 13, after the passing of her father, she took over the cooking responsibilities, discovering not only that she had a passion for cooking, but was gifted at creating innovative meals. With a love of animals, she specialized in vegetarian cooking. When her mother moved to Florida in 1987, Niki was happy to help her in two local Tarpon Springs restaurants. A few years later, Niki opened her own catering business, Niki’s Noshes, but catering didn’t give her the fulfillment that owning her own restaurant and seeing her customers experience her food firsthand could.
Years passed and the ache to own her own place didn’t go
away. When Niki’s then 12-year-old son decided to go vegan, she truly didn’t
know what eating vegan meant.
“Before I made the change from vegetarian to vegan, I needed to know it was important to do this, besides just my son wanting us to change. I poured over recipe books and studied the health reasoning behind a vegan lifestyle, learning everything I could to understand this new form of cooking,” said Niki.
What she learned about gut health was both life and diet-changing. She embraced a vegan lifestyle with her family, and decided that would be the type of restaurant she would eventually open.
After working with a real estate agent and initially contemplating opening a vegan spa, Niki and business partner, husband Rafi decided Niki’s aptitude in the kitchen would be sorely wasted without an actual restaurant to showcase her food preparation. With Rafi’s business acumen and Niki’s restaurant background, the two set out on a quest to find the perfect place.
“My mother had passed and I believe I was guided by her to this location because she always wanted me to open a restaurant,” she explained.
When the newlyweds walked into the space nestled into the corner of the shopping plaza on Tampa Road, it was love at first sight. It was already set up for a restaurant and had a following of loyal customers. Niki and Rafi were eager to add their own personal touches to metamorphosis the building into Niki’s vision for The Green Table Restaurant.
At The Green Table Restaurant, a huge blackboard nearly covers the left wall, displaying in colorful chalk the featured limited items not on the menu. A recent addition to the menu is a customer-created item – the TLT affectionately dubbed The Cheryl after the customer who continually requested it. The Cheryl features house-made maple bacon-flavored tempeh, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado on multi-grain toast with tamari mayonnaise. It joins other multicultural fan favorites like the pressed Cuban, the French Dip, and the Gyro, as well as soups like spicy Moroccan Tomato Peanut soup, French Onion soup and mouthwatering plant-based milkshake concoctions, among many other choices.
Niki joked that when it pops into her head, whether driving on the way home from work or waking her from sleep, she has to go into her kitchen and create the new recipe. Customers get to taste test and Niki decides if it will remain a featured item. A recent addition to the blackboard is the Shawarma, honoring her husband’s Mediterranean roots.
With the arrival of The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat Burger, the blackboard-featured “Mac Stack,” a vegan version of her son’s fast food favorite has blown up on social media.
“It’s crazy,” Niki said. “I didn’t expect it to go viral
Customers so love Niki, Rafi and The Green Table Restaurant that cast members from TLC’s reality television series “Smothered” recorded an episode in the restaurant.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, the 12×18 sized menu offers an enormous amount of choices made fresh each day. Advocating a pay it forward attitude, any leftovers at the close of the day are handed out to the local homeless population.
The organic, vegan, vegetarian oasis in the heart of Palm Harbor offers farm to table made-from-scratch goodness each day, with no canned goods excluding an occasional organic canned tomato. Organic, locally-grown produce is freshly delivered each morning and specialty bread comes from a non-dairy, vegan bakery in Sarasota. Desserts come from local vegan and vegetarian bakeries and a plant-based ice cream small business.
Niki, Rafi and their staff worked hard to reduce their carbon footprint, become eco-friendly using only compostable products, earning their Ocean-Friendly certification from Ocean Allies.
“I want you to feel like you’re walking into a hug the moment you walk through the door,” she said.
At The Green Table Restaurant, customers can experience meals from their childhood, familiar tastes prior to going vegetarian or vegan – “a plateful of happy memories,” innovatively transformed into vegetarian or vegan treasures, made with love by Niki.
The Green Table Restaurant is located at 3390 Tampa Road in Palm Harbor and is open Tuesday through Sunday. Learn more about The Green Table Restaurant at www.facebook.com/thegreentablerestaurant or https://www.instagram.com/thegreentablerestaurant.