“Dis-interested benevo-what?” I can imagine a satisfied customer of Pulse Café saying in between bites of award-winning, plant-based cuisine.
That’s disinterested benevolence — an old-fashioned term that means helping people with no strings attached — the vision and driving force behind Pulse Café, a new Seventh-day Adventist vegan restaurant in Hadley, Massachusetts, United States.
“You started this restaurant because you want to help people?”
Walk into Pulse and look around. High ceilings and a muted gray-and-mustard color scheme create a modern yet inviting open space. A sleek, black grand piano is tucked in the corner. Wood tables and chairs that fill the dining area are crafted from 100-year-old logs salvaged from the bottom of a river — giving each piece a delightfully aged character. A couple of stylishly comfortable couches are arranged around gas fireplaces with floor-to-ceiling stone chimneys. Pulse sports a smoothie bar that lines an entire wall of the restaurant, and a room for creating fresh-pressed juices as well.
This is a place that draws 600 to 800 patrons for Sunday brunch alone, each hungry soul coming to dine on vegan “chicken” and waffles, or breakfast burritos, or sweet corn tamales, and more, all made from organic and locally sourced produce as far as possible.
This is evidence of a forward-thinking and sophisticated business plan, but Pulse’s real mission is to use its service, menu, and other offerings to benefit the community.
While this altruistic motivation for a restaurant to benefit the community may astound the general public, it should be a well-known method and standard operating procedure for any well-informed member of the Seventh-day Adventist community of believers. It certainly is for Lance Wilbur and his wife, Evita, managers of Pulse, and the owners, Ted Crooker and Keith Rehbein.
Before becoming an Adventist, Lance Wilbur studied through every major religion in his search for truth — Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — and realized they all had some kind of health emphasis. “Before I started reading the Bible, I had stopped eating pork and red meat. Eventually, I was a vegetarian or a vegan, and I didn't even know what that was,” Lance said. “When I became a Seventh-day Adventist, I realized that there was a message in the Bible that brought it all together.”
After Lance was baptized, one of the first of Ellen White's books he read was the book Evangelism. In it, he encountered a practical application of Jesus’ great commission to take the good news of salvation to the world: meeting people’s needs physically and spiritually. Various institutions were mentioned as part of this practical application: schools, wellness centers, literature work, publishing, media, and hygienic restaurants, now known as vegetarian or plant-based restaurants.
“I was excited to know that these things existed, and I immediately went out to see them all … and found out that there weren’t many,” Lance said. He saw a need and determined to fill it. “This is one of my reasons for being,” he said. It’s been 18 years since he was baptized, and he’s still adamant: “With these things in place [we] can genuinely help the community in a sustainable way that’s not just looking for converts or looking for money, just genuine … love and interest for a community that’s at risk. In many statistical categories, most communities are at some risk.”
Enter Keith Rehbein, a Seventh-day Adventist farmer and businessman in western Massachusetts interested in promoting God’s work. When he spotted a restaurant that had closed and was up for sale, he recognized an opportunity. Rehbein notified Ted Crooker, an Adventist from Maine, who had recently sold a construction business and, because his heart was also infused with the spirit of disinterested benevolence, was seeking a health ministry to invest in rather than the stock market. With the intent of creating a plant-based restaurant as a center of influence to bring God’s message of hope and wholeness to the community, Crooker purchased the property. He and Rehbein also purchased property nearby to create an organic farm to supply some of the produce for the restaurant.
With timing that only God could orchestrate, Lance, while conducting evangelism training in western Massachusetts, met Rehbein, and the two found that they shared a vision for the health ministry. To Lance’s surprise, Rehbein told him about the property and said, “We are looking for a ministry to partner with!”
“Well, we’re a ministry looking for a business to partner with!” Lance replied. So Pulse Café began.
Lance and Evita had, separately, some experience in administration, food service, and catering, but never all together. They leaned on instructions from Ellen White’s books and adapted them to the 21st century. “We started with no one,” Lance said. “We had to develop all of the systems, the models, and [find] the workers to pull it off. We traveled to places, scouted out owners and managers of different restaurants. We brought in consultants to help us.”
The hardest part? Starting. “A lot of people talk, then struggle with concepts and theory,” Lance shared. “So it requires a sound business mind. It requires capital. It requires construction and knowing how to order and deal with contractors. How do you purchase equipment? Do you get it new or used? What do you use for point of sale? You literally learn how to deal with all that stuff. The only real way to learn how to do it is by doing it.… It taxes you to the uttermost.”
Why all the hard work just to benefit the community with the unique Seventh-day Adventist message of hope and wholeness? Isn’t there an easier way?
“Most people are not going to come to your church … [or] subscribe to your doctrinal teachings. And that’s not the goal,” Lance said. He maintains that the goal is to engage the community and show people that there is a better way to live.
At the bedrock of Pulse’s mission is Christ’s method of reaching people: “The Saviour mingled with [men and women] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).
“We’re told that the hygienic [plant-based] restaurant was designed by God … to reach people with the gospel,” Lance said. “It’s the practical extension of the concept of God desiring to restore [humanity] — complete restoration of health, peace, and … character.”
The restaurant model brings people in, allowing Pulse employees to mingle with all classes of people, show sympathy through caring service and Christlike demeanor, and then minister to their needs.
“What is their need?” Lance asked. “Food! They come here because they need to eat. They want to eat. So if the food is healthful and tasty — looks good, smells good, tastes good —and the service is of the same quality, you win the people’s confidence almost instantaneously. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Food is powerful. “However secular we’ve become in New England — one of the most secular regions in the United States — food is still somewhat intimate,” Lance continued. “There’s just a different level of vulnerability and mutual agreement between patrons and those providing the service.”
Coming Back for More
The food brings people in and keeps them coming back, and the Christlike service and atmosphere warms their hearts. But Pulse also offers practical solutions to the health risks of the community, just as Christ did. In addition to offering
a healthy plant-based menu, Pulse has hosted a cooking class for children, a breast cancer awareness event, a health screening expo, and seminars and workshops on everything from hypertension and heart disease to reversing diabetes and arthritis. They also offer one-on-one wellness consultations.
In essence, Lance and Evita, with support from owners Crooker and Rehbein, are doing whatever it takes to make it easy for the general public to experience health and wholeness. They sell a packaged juice cleanse, complete with an insulated tote, which offers a three-day supply of fresh, organic, cold-pressed juice, making the benefits of a cleanse easy to attain and available to all. In addition to their decadent-tasting comfort foods and desserts, they offer increasingly popular whole-food rice or quinoa bowls topped with vegetables. Pulse offers gluten and other allergen-free options on their regular menu. But if you call ahead, or are fortunate enough to find Evita on duty — despite her busyness as manager of the café, wife, and mother of four — when you come in, she will create a plate tailored to your specific health needs or allergies.
The outcomes? Pulse Café was awarded number-one plant-based restaurant in the area within six months of opening. They've shared both health and spiritual information with many people. "But the most tremendous element is the relationships," Lance shared. "We have regular customers … who are like family.… You connect with people in ways that you would have never connected with unless you had a restaurant."
“People ask questions,” Lance said. “‘Why are you closed on Saturday, the busiest day of the week?’ ‘Why is everybody so happy?’ ‘What is this music [that] you’re playing—hymns?’” According to Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, these are the questions that will be asked, and these are the questions that Lance, Evita, and crew are asked without solicitation. And the Adventist community has answers to share! With help from the Florence Seventh-day Adventist Church in Massachusetts, 12 Bible studies are underway.
A Serving of Disinterested Benevolence
The world is hungering for a better way to live. People crave acceptance and fellowship in a loving community — and are ready to receive answers that God has to offer. Lance cites the evidence: “What is the fastest growing industry? Health food, supplements, a plant-based [lifestyle], veganism.” The Seventh-day Adventist Church has answers for the needs of body, mind, and spirit, and proven ways of sharing these answers with success. Plant-based restaurants such as Pulse Café is just one of these ways.
“Come and see!” Lance invited. “Drop by, sample the food, experience the service and atmosphere, ask questions — get a taste of Christ’s method for reaching people. There is a need for more workers — from investors, business people, chefs, farmers, and waitstaff, to Bible workers, literature evangelists, and prayer warriors. Answer God's call, seek training, and get involved in the twenty-first century disinterested benevolence!”