Q&A: Cafe Bella's Vince Withers

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Big ideas lie behind the small storefront of Cafe Bella, where owner Vince Withers has taken the eat-local trend to another level. He turned his parking lot into an urban farm, started aquaculture systems in the dining room and donates plants to local food banks. He shared more about his quest to question everything.

There's been a family farm for generations in southern Ohio. I grew up going to the farm on the weekends. I learned a lot spending my summers there - about where food came from and the basics of how to deal with food.

I 've always had a relationship with cooking. At my house, every meal was pretty much eaten at home. We weren't a go-out family. I learned very young how to prepare shopping lists and how to cook food, as opposed to heating up stuff in the microwave.

I graduated in engineering from Ohio State. Then I went to work picking up Department of Defense contracts. I did some stuff for a couple years and became disenfranchised with the final product. I just felt like the ends of my means weren't in line with my values.

Cafe Bella's former owner said one day, "Buy the restaurant." Every four months or so, I'd be less happy with what I was doing. I started cooking for the neighborhood, and pretty soon I had everybody's folding chair or camping chair in my dining room.

Growing food i s very much a learning experience. I'm not inventing anything, but I'm cobbling things together from the waste stream in a unique way. My rain garden is all stuff I pulled out of the waste stream.

Ten thousand years ago, we were banging out some food. Even grandparents, when they were growing up, most of them had family house plots. There's no reason that lifestyle needed to come to a halt.

At the SDA Choice Food Bank, I give one plant to a family of four. I'm not ending their hunger. I'm trying to give people something that lets them feel like they're part of their food solution. At the same time, they have tools for the next season to move forward.

The next thing I'm working on is a 25-foot river that I'll stock with about 15 to 20 trout. It will simulate current moving down a river, and I'm going to build a booth over it.

The best advice I've ever received is don't put the cart before the horse.

Know someone doing cool things around Columbus? E-mail John Ross at jross@columbusalive.com.

Neighborhood: Short North

Hometown: Grandview


Playing Favorites

Favorite drink: Peroni

Favorite food: Fresh fish

Favorite place to travel: A river in Asia

Favorite musician: RJD2