A mainstay of the downtown restaurant scene for over 10 years, Love Bites was once known as a brunch spot, a bubbly spot where people could come together over mimosas and French toast.
After a change in ownership two and a half years ago, the café has more vegan and gluten-free options than the other village eateries combined. Owner Tess Robinson can be found serving plates and smiles at the 69 Partition St. venue as a waitress whenever the restaurant is open. She opened the spot to promote healthier eating after her own diet was turned upside down by a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a tissue disorder that left her with a fraction of her original digestive tract. Along with yoga, a nutrition degree from SUNY Purchase helped Robinson in coming to terms with and remastering her own diet following her surgery. Robinson came to her mantra of healing through eating through the success of her own experiences.
“People with my disease end up living with feeding tubes and bags. I was on a feeding tube, and I had to retrain my digestive system to be able to eat,” she said. “I started with liquids, and made my own vegetable and bone broths to heal the collagens in my digestive tract. The fact that I was able to heal my digestive system through thoughtful eating is pretty significant. It’s hard to do, and I wanted to share it with other people. There are so many illnesses that we could heal through dietary change that we use pharmaceuticals for instead.”
When it came time for Robinson to best decide how she could pass on her practice of healing through eating, she brought those experiences to bear when her and her husband, Christopher Keff, took over the Partition Street restaurant. Since then, things have definitely changed.
“We were hoping to go from what was a kind of cartoony, bubble-lettered space to something a little bit more sophisticated,” said Robinson. “We open for dinners in summer and we do some fine dining, so we like to have it be versatile.”
One can see in the design and decor of Love Bites what drove Robinson to think about pursuing an art degree, but it’s through her careful curation of the menu that Love Bites really shines.
“I love art, I’m still an artist, but I just realized that there’s a crisis in nutrition,” said Robinson. “I found what got me motivated in life was to help people eat healthier. We wanted to do that with Love Bites, and still have the food taste good. We want vegans, gluten-free people, and anyone with dietary restrictions to be able to get something tasty to eat. With my chronic illnesses, I found focusing on nutrition worked for me. I wanted to share that with the community. That is why we wanted people to be able to come in here and have the option. They should be able to come to a restaurant and not worry about their restrictions.”
The food, which spans from vegan burgers to cauliflower wings to assortments of all-local, all-organic vegetable dishes and also sports tofu and mushroom sandwiches, omelets, salads and more, is a testament not only to Robinson’s mission of better health through better eating, but to its chef as well. Niels Nielson, renowned in Kingston for his restaurants Duo and Pakt, heads up the kitchen and brings a deft touch with “soups, sauces, and specials,” Robinson said. She added that Love Bites prides itself on a heightened awareness of sourcing local ingredients, and in making sure that as many of those ingredients as possible are able to fit into any dietary needs.
“Regular flour never has, and never will, enter our kitchen,” Robinson shared. “Just so that we can be sure that there aren’t any gluten molecules floating around. Our meat comes from Joyce Farms, our eggs come from Feather Ridge Farms. Everything comes from our side of the river, or just across in Red Hook or Rhinebeck.”
Robinson said she has found Saugerties to be a great place to operate. “We love the town, it’s just quaint, the feeling, we love all the business owners, everyone works together,” said Robinson. “I can go to any business around here and ask for a tomato, and same goes for them.”