Up Close and Personal with The Healthy Owl's Lora-Lee Lawson

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Up Close and Personal with The Healthy Owl's Lora-Lee Lawson

The Healthy Owl is a cafe in Waterloo serving delicious and nutritious meals. Find out what motivated the owner, Lora-Lee Lawson, to embark on this venture.

Why did you decide to open The Healthy Owl?

After too many years of searching menus for a ‘healthy’ (or in some cases the least ‘unhealthy’) item to order, I thought it would be great to have a place where customers could order anything and know that they had made a healthy choice. I finally decided that it was time to do something about it and opened The Healthy Owl in July 2013 - a Bakery/Cafe that offers easy-to-access, affordable, delicious and healthy food.

Our first priority is that everything we offer tastes great! It must also be healthy, but it if it doesn’t taste great, it doesn’t make the menu! New items are tested by staff first, tweaked if necessary and then tested by a few of our regular customers who have offered to provide feedback. Only after an item has received glowing reviews by all parties is it added to the menu. ‘O.K.’ just doesn’t make the grade!

Enchilada and Mediterranean salad

Enchilada and Mediterranean Salad

Were you always a healthy eater or did you have some Kraft Mac N' Cheese days?

I wish I could say that I was always a healthy eater, but I have to confess to some ‘Hamburger Helper’ days in my past! It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I began to really pay attention to the food I was eating and the way my body responded. I continued to add and delete things from my diet, recognizing that I could fuel my body well, without eliminating great tasting food.

Is there room for dessert in your life that doesn't fall under the umbrella of healthy?

Absolutely! I do believe that there is a place in everyone’s life for occasional indulgences (cheese cake, anyone?). When we choose an indulgence we usually do so knowing that the selection we have made isn’t particularly healthy, but we have made a conscious choice to indulge. I believe that the difficulty arises when we inadvertently indulge, believing that we are choosing a healthy snack, only to discover later that it contained as many calories as a small meal!

What do you feel makes a snack guilt-free?

I think of a guilt-free snack as being one that contains healthy ingredients, little fat/salt and a reasonable ratio of calories to volume (e.g. a 500 calorie slice of Banana Loaf isn’t my idea of a reasonable ratio!!)

savoury breakfast scone

Savoury Breakfast Scone

The Healthy Owl

You offer wheat free/dairy free/gluten free and vegan daily soups and features. Would doing all of these things at once in baked goods be difficult? Why?

Yes, we do offer items that are wheat free/dairy free/gluten free and vegan, and it can be challenging to combine all of these into one product, since eliminating something from one group often involves substituting something from another. However, although it can be difficult to work all of these into one product, we have managed! For example, we currently offer a vegan, gluten-free Blondie Bliss Bar and a delicious Oatmeal Raisin Muffin.

The word "healthy" is thrown around a lot these days. What do you think makes something healthy?

Ultimately, for us healthy means real food – nothing simulated and fresh ingredients wherever possible. Beyond this starting point it means lower fat & sodium, higher fiber, local (when possible) and recognizing that offering a variety of healthy items makes it easier for more people to make healthy choices!

Having said that, we recognize that ‘healthy’ means different things to different people – it can mean either (or any combination of) vegan, dairy free, wheat free, low sodium, low fat, gluten free, sugar free, high protein and so on. Preparing our food on-site from scratch allows us to answer our customers’ questions and point them in the right direction for their needs.

What makes The Healthy Owl different from other places offering ‘healthy’ food?

For a start, since we make everything fresh right here in our kitchen, we don’t use additives, preservatives, artificial flavours or flavour enhancers. We replace fats & oils in our baked goods with fruit & vegetable purees, buttermilk, egg whites, yogurt, etc. These fruit & vegetable purees (plus the use of maple syrup and honey) allow us to reduce or eliminate the sugar content. Also, we use whole wheat flour wherever possible to add extra fibre

Breakfast and lunch items follow a similar theme. Our soup stock is vegetable based, gluten free and low sodium. Nearly all of our soups and most of our daily features are gluten free as well as low sodium. Our salads and wraps/sandwiches contain ingredients that are made on site which allows us to control the oil and sodium and avoid the preservatives & additives that are typically part of commercially prepared food. We also substitute GF wraps and buns on request.

making food from scratch, the healthy owl

So, if you haven’t already, come in to The Healthy Owl and find out how absolutely delicious truly healthy food can be – we never tire of hearing customers say “That is the best . . . I’ve ever had!”

The Healthy Owl Cafe Bakery