Introducing The Women Behind Fullerton's Green Bliss
Anne Marie Panoringan
In Downtown Fullerton's Villa del Sol complex, a new concept is growing. Green Bliss will open its doors tomorrow, featuing locally roasted coffee from Portola Coffee Lab, organic vegetarian food, and a place where diners can sit down and read up on how they can live a healthier, greener lifestyle.
I sat down with the tireless team behind Green Bliss recently to discuss how each of them fits into the big picture. Rita Ho is the visionary behind the concept. Allison Tan is general manager. Alexandra LittleJohn is the director of coffee (and a former operations manager at Portola Coffee Lab). After hitting the record button, it was their turn to explain.
Rita Ho always led an organic, vegetarian lifestyle. She wanted to bring the sustainability concept to everyday life. Most people tend to think it's expensive and time consuming. Her idea was to lure customers in with great coffee and good food, then educate them. They have a dedicated wall space stocked with books, a place where all the information gathering and filtering is already done. Plans to offer classes on eco-friendly beauty products and sustainable coffee are in the works.
Her other goal was to source over 90% of everything from within California. She acquired the former flower shop space last July, and has spent time researching options and working on permits. Rita felt Fullerton was an under-served inland market which needed a place like Green Bliss. Despite a background with no restaurant experience, her business degree helps communicate thoughts with Allison and Alexandra.
Allison Tan met Rita through a shared interest in swing dancing. A graduate of Cal Poly Pomona's hospitality management program, she previously worked for Houstons. Tan showed interest in learning more about the lifestyle, but her challenge was that she herself was not vegetarian.
Yet she was able to find balance in creating their vegetarian and vegan menu, "I don't just want to be 'Panera Bread, just vegetarian'. We want to be elevated." A selection that changes with the seasons allows flexibility in what is served. One of their offerings includes a balsamic roasted mushroom panini; it's stuffed with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, avocado, and a hemp seed basil pesto.
Some of Green Bliss' lettuce varieties will stem from Boys Republic, a private, nonprofit school and treatment community for troubled youngsters. As part of their curriculum, the boys learn how to tend the 200 acre farm/school in Chino Hills. Bread is sourced from Dean Kim at OC Baking. Luscious Organic Desserts is their preferred cupcake vendor. In addition, Sweet Lilikoi Patisserie will provide strawberry croissants, raspberry pistachio cake slices, and fruit tarts, just to name a few.
Alexandra LittleJohn met Rita at a ServSafe certification course. California does not grow coffee; however it is one of the largest commodities traded out of third world countries. They pay above trade standards for their coffee, and the women select grocers that are sustainable to roast their coffee. Both Handsome Coffee Roasters and Portola Coffee Lab will be two of those featured. Not only is Green Bliss the first OC location for Handsome, it is the first place to host multiple roasters. Fortunately, Alexandra knows her roasters and importers well enough to trust their products.
Recently, LittleJohn placed second in the Southwest regional barista competition. Her category was Brewers Cup, where they manually brew a cup of coffee in a certain amount of time, with a presentation that's comparable to a cafe experience. Judged by three CQI (Quality Coffee Institution) representatives, it's akin to conducting a wine tasting for a trio of master sommeliers. Her true-to-self presentation was considered one of the best, with a line smartly describing a part of brewing that the general public doesn't understand, "Coffee is sensitive, like my ex-boyfriend. If you agitate him too much, it becomes really bitter."
Anne Marie Panoringan
Alexandra advances to nationals this month with a determined attitude. After all, it's a big deal for an Orange County contender to make it this far. We wonder if there will be any coffee pairings offered. Only one way to find out!
Green Bliss is located at 305 N. Harbor Blvd, Fullerton; www.green-bliss.com.
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