Friends of Urban Cannibals

For those who haven't heard of Urban Cannibals, located in the funky hamlet that is East Atlanta, nor heard of its equally funky owners, Chef Calavino Donati and musician extraordinaire, Doria Roberts, you are truly missing out.

Not only is the food fresh, delcious and made-to-order, but the true sincerity both of these wonderful women convey not only for their community, but for the larger world community, feeds more than just your stomach (and they do it so well); it truly feeds your soul.

For these, and so many other reasons, we want to see Urban Cannibals continue to thrive and grow with the community, and, as these two awesome individuals have given so much of their own personal time to create the art of food, music and community, it's time to give back.

We all have been affected by the long economic recession, and Urban Cannibals is no exception. Recently beset by numerous equipment breakdowns, Urban Cannibals desperately needs to not only upgrade equipment, but expand its space in order to serve the numbers of customers who love it for the many reasons described below.  We thought long and hard about how we could help Calavino and Doria expand and make the repairs and improvements necessary to keep these two artists in our "family".

After approaching them about our idea, they were both humbled and thankful. So, let's rally around them both, as they have rallied around all of us.

Please consider donating whatever you can to help them expand and make improvements, and please pass the word along about this page. 

Our goal is to raise $100,000 in 45 days.  With all the people who love Urban Cannibals, Calavino, and Doria, we know we can attain this goal!

If you aren't familiar with Calavino and Doria, or with Urban Cannibals, here's a testimonial from my partner, Lisa Coston, that truly expresses just how special Urban Cannibals is and why it needs to stay and thrive here in Atlanta:

The first thing I noticed when I met Calavino Donati for the very first time, was her beautiful, friendly smile and engaging presence.

It was a freely shared, genuine smile that spoke volumes about the individual that I would come to know and so personified that gorgeous, intriguing name: Calavino. She greeted us like old friends, though we had never met before. It was our first time at Calavino's, the restaurant that shared her name in Oakhurst, several years ago.

Next, yet another strikingly beautiful woman with a smile rivaling Calavino's, came over and handed us menus, similarly enthusiastic that we had wandered into this warm restaurant with its exposed brick and cool jazz playing softly in the background.

This woman turned out to be the fiercely artistic and creative Doria Roberts.

That night, I had the best lobster ravioli I have ever eaten, and the pre-dinner olive tapenade tower left me speechless.

At least three times during our meal, Calavino showed up at our table with her signature, "Hey guys, how is it? Is everything good? Do you need anything?" And this was with a mostly full restaurant of other "friends" of Calavino the person and Calavino's the restaurant.

My partner and I both left with full, satisfied stomachs and full, satisfied spirits. I've been to some really fantastic eateries, but, I swear, I've never been to a restaurant where I felt as if I was a member of the owner's family from the get go.

I had heard of the Roman Lily Cafe, but I never had the pleasure of eating there. Friends who frequented Roman Lily told me it was one of the best restaurants in Decatur, during its tenure.

Roman, Lily, and the Roman Lily Cafe

"After WWII, my grandparents, Roman and Lily, moved to Wisconsin to start their family and settled on a little farm. My grandmother was from the Tuscany region in Italy and didn't speak English so, after a while, she started to feel isolated and wanted to move to town. So, they packed up their four children and moved. It was a small town but there were more people around so my grandmother was happy. She was from a loud, Italian family and really needed that energy. I think that's where my mom got it from and probably where I got it.

My grandfather opened a bar and they ran it together. She learned a little English and they built up a little community around it. Back then everyone had a garden so they used to open the ballroom up once a year and have "put up" parties and let people come in to do their canning and pickling in the bar or barter and sell their produce.

This is my first impression of community, which was more like "extended family". It was a small town and everyone knew each other but, even if you didn't really know someone, you still included them and treated them family. No one was ever a stranger.

That's how it felt at the Roman Lily. I didn't see people as just customers. The set up was an open kitchen so it felt like I was just behind their bar again, greeting everyone a they came in, making sure everyone was taken care of. It's kind of like how everyone winds up in the kitchen at a party. It was just like that, actually. It felt like everyone was just hanging out in my kitchen. It didn't feel like work."

                                                                  - Calavino Donati

When the recession hit a few years ago, it hit Calavino -- the person and the restaurant -- pretty hard. One day, we went to Calavino's in Oakhurst and it was closed. I thought that was it, and I wondered if I would ever cross paths with this unique chef and her equally talented wife ever again.

Somehow, we found out that Calavino and Doria had risen from the ashes, yet again, and showed up at Calavino's Soul Kitchen (sharing space in East Atlanta with My Sister's Room), serving breakfast and brunch.

This is another thing I learned about Calavino and Doria. You cannot keep either of them down for too long.

Perseverence in the Face of Adversity

"Christmas of '87. I lost everything I owned including my first business designing jewelry in a fire that left me with 3rd degree burns over 55% of my body and I couldn't work for over a year. During that time, I found myself constantly drawing out floor plans on napkins while sitting in restaurants watching wait staff and customers struggle with the layouts. I spent a lot of hours during that downtime reworking menus. I was obsessed with fixing things.

I think part of this obsession was because when I in the hospital I was fed a liquid diet through a tube for over a month. I was vegetarian before the accident but was basically forced to eat meat so that I could regenerate the flesh my body was trying to grow back. But, even though I had graduated to solid foods, I knew I was still just being "fed". It wasn't "feeding" me. It was soulless. I wanted the food from my childhood. Food that was prepared by people who loved to cook, who loved to take care of people. I couldn't find what I was looking for so I just started cooking for myself. I started with me. Feeding myself was where I really learned about food being an expression of love and that expression extended beyond me when I finally started cooking for other people."
                                                                    - Calavino Donati

When someone is this attuned to their own path in life, and what they do is just part of their passion for life in general, you gravitate toward whatever and wherever they are in life. It's just a scientific fact.

I remember waiting for almost an hour at Calavino's Soul Kitchen on a late Sunday morning, something I normally would NOT do at any establishment, just to eat the organic omelet and to see Calavino and Doria again.

I promise you, I've never ever done that for any chef or at any restaurant. The connection was complete.

Yes, and there was Doria -- a talented singer and songwriter, poet and artist; I mean, the woman has met and performed with the late and great Odetta! -- playing hostess, server and whatever else was needed, yet again, proving just what a team they are.

Doria has traveled all around the U.S., performed at Lilith Fair, and she is an artistic icon here in the Atlanta area and across the country. Yet, it's not about "fame" for this woman. What she does, artistically, is a way of life for her as well.

Service and Community

"Our ideas regarding community are pretty different even though the goals are similar: bring people together for a common 'cause'. Calavino's methods are much more personal. She comes from a big communal family and I was essentially raised an only child. Her outreach comes more naturally whereas mine was formed around my baseball and basketball teams, my dance classes, theater productions and any other thing my mom could get me involved in.

Also, my high school required that we complete 10 hours of community service each year in order to advance to the next grade. Basically, you could get straight A's but still not advance if your community service wasn't done. So, it was ingrained in me at an early age that serving your community should be an integral part of what you're doing."
                                                                   - Doria Roberts

The place was so busy, and Doria said, "Guys, it's going to be a long wait, but it will be worth it. I just want to let you know that."

I was willing to wait, because, whether either of them knew it, we felt like they were now "family" as well. Still, within the frenzy of a Spring Sunday brunch, here comes Calavino walking out from the kitchen.

I felt a hand on my shoulder,"Hey guys!!! I can't talk for long, but THANK YOU for waiting. Do you want anything special? Let me know."

The tenure at My Sister's Room didn't last long, due to an issue with the building's safety, and, again, we were bereft without our Doria and Calavino fix!

Again, you cannot keep someone from what they love to do. If it's in their DNA, it is a way of life, as normal and automatic as inhaling and exhaling.

Urban Cannibals

I discovered this was the name of Calavino and Doria's latest culinary "Phoenix."

"What a cool name," I thought.

I could not wait to finally see the new place in East Atlanta. Though the space was much smaller than the restaurant in Oakhurst, there stood Calavino behind the back counter, with a couple of George Foreman grills, some small burners, giving the same love and respect to the culinary masterpieces she creates for her "family" old and new.

It felt like home, though, to see Doria wave and say, "Hi guys! Welcome back!"

I liked the new space when I saw it, because in a way, it was more intimate than before, and because, again, it showed me more about the spirit of both Doria and Calavino -- that spirit of community and good, whole food for all, and the spirit of being true to who you are.

Again, these two are a team. If I don't see Doria at the helm, I worry. I really do. Again, when you love what you do, and you feel it's not only a job but it's a passion, you will find a way to keep on doing what you love. That's what all great artists do, you know?

I've learned so much more about who these two people are, truly to their core, and I have come to respect them both even more.

Community is not just a word to these two. It's a commitment and a passion for people, healthy and whole foods and bringing both together. One of the last times I was at Urban Cannibals, I watched a young family -- mom, dad, little boy about 5 -- come in to say "goodbye" to Calavino and Doria, as they were moving out of town.

The little boy came running towards Doria, and she swooped him up in her arms, hugged him close and said, "I am sooo going to miss you." I smiled as I watched the exchange, and Doria looked at me and mouthed, "just like family."

Add some music to the mix, and you have magic: Farm to Ear. The Farm to Ear concept was born, taking the form of a concert performed by Doria and sometimes other artists, combined with an amazing meal based on Calavino's past and present menus and featuring local and organic meats and produce.

Music, Food, and Family

"All I had to with Urban Cannibals was find the community and activist aspect of food and I was hooked. The rest came naturally. It was and continues to be a learning experience, which I love. I actually loved school so I don't shy away from challenging topics or solving tough questions. As much as there is redundancy in running the business, there are always problems to solve and that keeps me going.

When it was time for me to start touring again, I realized we couldn't just leave and close the store but we could take the store on the road since we had national exposure from the Food Channel. There were a lot of people asking us to ship our menu but, now, we had to opportunity to make it fresh and in person for them. The idea for Farm to Ear was born. We would shop at local farmers markets to maintain our mission of supporting local economies and cook dinner on site at house concerts. I did the house concerts because I'd lost a lot of my fan base and couldn't fill traditional venues anymore. It was just another problem to solve! I also didn't need as much lead time to book them so we could leave when it was most convenient for the store.

* * * *

I do love the people I've met through the store. I've also watched a number of children grow up and their visits are the highlight of my days. I babysat newborn twins as a barter when we were trying to open (their dad helped tear down a wall) and now those kids are walking and talking and they have their own personalities and it''s been amazing to be a part of that. We've watched other kids go from just eating grilled cheese to eating from the regular menu or changing their tastes for certain foods. Like, we have one little girl who comes that hated whipped cream two years ago and, now, she loves it. But, she doesn't remember not liking it. We have this perspective on her and we've grown with her food choices. It's a really special 'barometer' that we have."
                                                                     - Doria Roberts

One of the best nights we've ever had, in recent months, is when we made a reservation for one of Calavino and Doria's "Community Dinners." As a memorial to the love of food and community handed down from Roman and Lily, Calavino and Doria began these dinners with a prix-fixe menu, and only Doria, Calavino and one other staff member handling the cooking, serving and clean up.

Even with the limited seating at Urban Cannibals, the place was transformed into what seemed like a huge, family dining room, with one long family table.

We didn't know anyone else at the table, but that quickly changed. Amidst the most delicious appetizers, main course and dessert, we made new connections in a relaxed atmosphere. It was like a great symphony of food and drink, orchestrated by two master conductors who understand the meaning of community, activism and family. The alchemy worked.
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Susan Hughes 
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