It’s only natural that the spring and summer bring a fresh bounty of plant-based options alongside opportunity for renewal and growth.
Australia native Donna Fitzgerald Vannan opened Maximum Zen in May in the hope of providing vegan, vegetarian and plant-based options to her customers. Her eatery at 318 Davis St., Clarks Summit, serves a variety of fresh juice, smoothies, baked goods and other items that are either vegan- or vegetarian-friendly. Vannan also is considering starting a weekly supper club.
“I plan on having some of the dishes I am known for from different restaurants, such as Vegan Cashew Cheese Lasagna, Hazelnut Vegan Ricotta-Stuffed Eggplant and a vegetarian take on my Popcorn Grits with Vegetarian Sausage,” Vannan said.
Chef’s Table recently chatted with the business owner.
Q: What is the history of the restaurant?
A: I have been working as a chef for many years, always with a focus on vegetarian, vegan and farm to table-style cuisine. I had not planned to open a place now, but after the pandemic restrictions, I found I needed to completely change the ways I had been working and try and find a more manageable work/life balance with my family. Hilary Steinberg of Jaya Yoga and I had often spoken casually about opening a café/tea room at the yoga studio. Then the opportunity to do something arose, so I went for it.
Q: What kind of food do you serve, and what is available for people with special diets?
A: I do vegan/plant-based and vegetarian foods. Lots of cakes, cookies, pastries and sweet treats. I also do pies, savory pastries and will be doing salads, sandwiches and more entrée options as I go along. I also have tea, coffee from Electric City Roasters, freshly made daily juice, smoothies and sodas from the Beekeeper’s Daughter. I feel that there is a really growing audience for plant-based and healthier options these days. I have always included vegan and vegetarian options in all my menus at various restaurants I have worked in in the area, and I am finding that people are responding really enthusiastically to everything I have. I want my food to be inclusive to everyone, and I would like to think people will enjoy my food regardless of their personal eating choices.
I am also working on adding more gluten-free and sugar-free menu items. I have been influenced by so many different people, places and cultures, and I love to reflect that in my food. I also think that there is more awareness about what ingredients are in food now, and I try to be very aware of what ingredients I use and where they come from. I also try to use vegan and non animal-tested cleaning products and compostable and recyclable containers, cups and straws where I can. There are great vegan and vegetarian places in this area, such as Eden in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and I just want to provide some more options here in Clarks Summit.
Q: What are your most-ordered menu items and why?
A: At the moment, people are trying a bit of everything. The freshly made juice blend is very popular. I usually do a combination of fresh fruits and vegetables with fresh ginger juice in there too. All the cakes have been very popular, and the vegan sausage rolls (an Australian-style snack) made with an Impossible burger are also very popular.
Q: How did your menu come to be?
A: I am still growing my menu, so it changes daily. I intend to have some permanent items and other dishes, such as Quiche of the Day and a daily juice selection. I want the freedom to be creative and work with what inspires me and what is seasonally and locally available. Australia has a really diverse cuisine and access to all kinds of beautiful, fresh ingredients. At the moment I serve Lamingtons, which are a sponge cake rolled in chocolate icing and coconut, filled with whipped cream and raspberry jam; Pavlova, which is a whipped meringue filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit; Vegan Sausage Rolls, which are made with an Impossible burger and spices in a puff pastry casing. I also plan on having Vanilla Slices, which are a kind of custard-filled Napoleon, and a lot of filled cookies (which we call biscuits in Australia) as well as more savory and sweet things that remind me of home.
Q: How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
A: Beautiful, light, airy, peaceful.
Q: What type of seating do you offer?
A: Until the restrictions are lifted, it is grab-and-go. Hopefully, in the future, we will have some outdoor seating where people can take their food and enjoy it, and inside as well. I do not have table service, as it is grab-and-go style for now.
Q: What kinds of promotions do you offer?
A: I will be having daily combination specials, i.e., coffee and cake or juice and sandwich, but I am still getting myself situated for now.
Q: Do you offer catering, event space, etc.?
A: Yes, the space is available for rent as an event space, and in the future, I will offer more catering options. I intend to start a Friday Night Supper Club with a small menu of entrees that people can order from and pick up Friday nights.
Q: Are you offering delivery, takeout or curbside pickup?
A: Only pickup and curbside pickup options for now.
Q: Where do you see the restaurant headed in the future?
A: I would love to see Maximum Zen become part of the community with people coming to try a bit of everything, maybe sample some unique Australian dishes and healthy options. I want to appeal to everyone and make a lot more vegan treats, snacks and dishes available in this area.
Laura Rysz is the features copy editor and calendar editor at The Times-Tribune and runs the Talk of the Times column, which focuses on local fundraisers and other events. She also writes Chef’s Table that profiles restaurants around the region. Additionally, Laura curates events online on AccessNEPA.com. Laura is involved in the special Mother’s Day edition and curates occasional features Marry Memories and Times Travelers. She is a graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School, New Jersey, and earned an English professional writing degree with a minor in mass communications from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. She also earned a certificate in Social Media Marketing from Rutgers Business School. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5228.