Inside a former Pizza Hut on outer Lisbon Street in Lewiston, you can order from a menu filled with hummus wraps, Gardenburgers and veggie BLTs.

It seems unlikely, but it’s true. Almost two years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist church converted the building into a vegan restaurant and community center, with a roster of free health workshops and spiritual meetings.

Called The Ark, the cafe is open for lunch during the week and for Sunday brunch. It’s closed on Saturdays, which is the Sabbath for Seventh-day Adventists.

I recently ate lunch there with a good friend and our 2-year-olds, and we found the Ark’s menu to be family-friendly with many vegan twists on familiar soups, sandwiches and salads, including a bright Cobb Salad, rich and gooey Cheez Quesadilla and a Chickenless Salad sandwich (served, like the grilled basil tofu sandwich) on house-made focaccia. Both our kids were enthusiastic about the Very Berry Fruit Smoothies. A cup of soup cost $2.95, and sandwiches are $6.95.

Head chef Tracy Vis said all the food is GMO-free, and she is working to source more organic ingredients. “We also try to partner as much as possible with local farmers and producers,” she said.

Partnering with the community is what The Ark is all about, according to Pastor Rick Kuntz of the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church. He and his wife, herbalist Jane Kuntz, were inspired to open the restaurant shortly after joining the congregation in 2011.

“Jesus spent more time healing than preaching,” Pastor Kuntz told me. “As an avid Bible student for over 40 years, I have found that God created us as a complete package – physical, emotional and spiritual. They are all intricately interwoven together. We serve whole plant foods for the physical. We teach classes in the evenings to instruct the mental, emotional and spiritual.”

He said The Ark’s food is vegan because plant-based foods are better for our bodies and the planet. “God created us to function remarkably well on plant foods,” Pastor Kuntz said. Both he and his wife have been vegetarians for more than 30 years.

The Seventh-day Adventist church, a Protestant denomination, has promoted health and vegetarian eating since its founding in 1863. Two of the church’s early founders – James and Ellen White – were from Maine.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, Adventists around the country are reviving the tradition of church-sponsored vegetarian restaurants. The article cited The Ark along with establishments in New York City, San Francisco, Denmark and Finland.

With the exception of the director and the head chef, volunteers run The Ark. Kuntz says many of the volunteers come from the Seventh-day Adventist churches in Auburn, Topsham, Brunswick and Freeport. A few are community members who have benefited from the food and programs at The Ark and want to give back.

After the lunch crowd leaves, The Ark staff and volunteers rearrange the tables and chairs to make room for an ever-changing mix of free public events, including cooking classes and health workshops. Doctors and other health professionals from Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick regularly offer workshops.

Recently, Jane Kuntz, along with Dr. Zach Mazone and nurse practitioner Mary Penner, finished a series of workshops on using herbs to treat depression, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. On the upcoming schedule are a cooking class from The Ark’s chef, a class on giving chair massages and a four-week program from Augusta-based cooking instructor Cheryl Farley on how to reverse diabetes using a plant-based diet. The second Saturday of each month a community spiritual meeting is held, followed by a free vegan dinner. For a full list of programs, see lewistonark.com.

Janet Libby of Brunswick volunteers as The Ark’s program coordinator, and she said offering the classes for free allows “people who don’t have a lot of money to come in and get a health consultation and learn things they can do to help their health problems.”

And for vegetarians like me, The Ark offers a welcome menu of plant-based meals in an unlikely spot.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

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