by Tom Sims
Tom Sims searches the Valley for tips on eating healthy, buying healthy food, growing healthy food, and eating out healthy in the Valley, for this Healthy Eating in the Valley column. Feel free to share your suggestions of places and things to check out!
A follow-up to Tree of Life Growing in Downtown Fresno, Part 1.
“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” – Revelation 22:2
The tree stands at 2139 Kern St. between M and L Streets. Inside the Tree of Life Café are the fruits of many local trees along with other delicacies prepared by Chef Phillip Ocheltree, under the watchful and proud eyes of his parents, Steve and Carolyn.
Dedicated to the healing of the city, of individual lives, of downtown, and of the nations that gather on the street corners of Fresno, the Tree of Life Café and Bakery opened its doors last week. Once-broken people who have come out of Fresno Rescue Mission’s ministries, including Rescue the Children, are giving back to the community.
Carolyn and Steve Ocheltree took their time opening Tree of Life. From the first time I reported on their plans, to the grand opening last week was two months, and that was late in the preparation game. Now I know why.
Attention was given to every detail. Whatever could have been done was done in order to say, “You are welcome; we’ve been planning for your visit.” Whatever could make the customer comfortable and delighted has been provided.
The detailed menu planning meant that I had no trouble with my very particular diet to find something to eat that was not an afterthought. Nor were their prices inflated to accommodate my peculiarities.
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, carnivorous: it’s all there.
What do you like in your coffee? Sugar? Stevia? Cream?
I had a bowl of cereal, and that does not happen often. It sounds dull, but it was anything but dull. Plus, it was a fully balanced meal.
Lanna Coffee, India Sweets & Spices, and Raizana Tea are displayed, and their presence announces, “We are part of something larger in our community.” It also reflects a bias toward collaborative effort and neighborliness. Pocket bread from Hye Deli adds to the charm and the sense of place. Local culture is represented in art on the walls and on the menu.
Long a fan of Carolyn’s pies, I managed to resist that day. But I vowed to return for a slice. From Mole Chile Con Carne to Momo from Northern India, and Lamb Sausage Fry, the menu is varied. It is also reasonably and simply priced. One item is $5.00, two are $9.00, and, for the really hungry, three items cost $11.00. Beverages are $2.00 and there is even a $1.00 item on the breakfast menu: fresh fruit.
The food was local; some of it was even growing on the wall. I discovered that as I was waiting in line and started admiring some old pallets that had been repurposed as planters for herbs and succulents. To my delight, the young lady in front of me was the artist.
Tori D’Ambrosi owns and is the creative force behind Propagation Station. She is a horticulturalist as well as a designer. Her art lives and grows. She specializes in home grown succulents and custom-planted arrangements. One day, she hopes to open a very specialized nursery that will cater, in part, to urban gardeners who sometimes only have a patio for a farm. Her work can be found on
I was eager to attend the grand opening event because I expected to see some of my local heroes who are working to revive downtown. I was not disappointed. Craig Scharton from Peeves was present. The Downtown Fresno Partnership and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce were well-represented to help with the ribbon cutting.
I ran into Ashley Cortes from Agape Creative Studios. Ashley and Sergio Cortes work side by side to do some of the finest and most power-packed videos in Fresno or anywhere. It is their business, which includes a full range of services which help other businesses and non-profits deliver their message, but it is also their passion and calling. When they are not creating a message for others, they operate a Community Benefit Organization called, No More Slumlords. The Ocheltrees contacted them to help deliver the Tree of Life message.
These are the kind of people and groups that Tree of Life is bringing together around tables of delicious food, in comfortable surroundings, in a friendly “third place.”
On their website, they say, “Tree Of Life Café & Bakery is being planted in downtown Fresno as a symbol of renewal in our city. We are an urban cafeteria where slow food is served fast. Foods are prepared by hand, taking various dietary needs into consideration. We include gluten-free baked goods, dairy-free treats, and vegetarian and vegan entrees on the menu.
“Not to be mistaken for a health food hut, we also have a seasonal house-made sausage on our menu. And, cookies. And homemade pie. And homemade brownies. And, did we mention homemade pie?
“Our story of renewal and restoration echoes throughout the restaurant from our employees, many of whom are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions themselves, to our furnishings–tables made of reclaimed barnwood, and chairs repurposed and refinished from local thrift shops.”
Carolyn says more about their philosophy in this video:
So be it. Conversing with a local property owner, while sipping my last cup of Lanna Coffee after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we agreed that what many new restaurants lack is a plan for sustainability. From every indication I can see, Tree of Life has been well-planned and well-planted in downtown Fresno and will be bearing fruit for decades to come.