Marie Peterson, 55, of Bargaintown, has many reasons for opening a cafe that specializes in healthy foods. In her 30 years in the food industry, she has worked as a waitress, hostess, bartender and as an expediter.

After 21 years at the Trump Marina, Peterson pursued her own business, the Heavenly Health Cafe. Healthy cooking has long been her passion.

Peterson has been into healthy eating for 25 years. After being diagnosed with a thyroid tumor, Peterson chose holistic methods rather than surgery and radiation which could have possibly destroyed her voice box. Peterson went to an American-based holistic hospital in Mexico for treatment and ended up working there for a year, all while learning about holistic health.

With a medical background as a medical assistant for 15 years, she learned how to help others through diet, exercise and detox.

She has been cancer-free for 22 years,

"The way our menu is designed, that's the way I eat," Peterson says.

On the breakfast menu, the whole-grain pancakes ($5.50) are served with pure maple syrup, two things that customers tell Peterson they have trouble finding elsewhere. Steel-cut oatmeal ($3.95), another favorite, also is not available in many places.

The Greek omelet ($8.75) has organic baby spinach, tomato and feta cheese. The Spanish omelet ($8.50) has tomato, onion, peppers and salsa.

"Our omelets sell all day long," Peterson says.

All the omelets use eggs from free-range, vegetarian-fed chickens that receive no antibiotics.

All of the dishes use fresh ingredients, and organic produce is used whenever possible.

The popular vegetarian chili ($2.95 cup, $3.95 bowl) made with bulgur wheat is actually vegan, a group that Peterson actively caters to. Vegans go so far as to not use byproducts of animals, so honey from bees, cheese from mammal's milk or eggs from chickens are out.

"We actually have a separate griddle that is used only for vegan dishes," Peterson says.

Many vegetarians will eat eggs or cheese and Peterson often finds couples dining at her cafe that follow two different paths when it comes to eating choices.

Sandwiches are served on a choice of multigrain bread, multigrain roll, whole wheat, rye or wraps.

Popular sellers are the roasted turkey breast ($8.95) with cranberry chutney and brie and the hummus wrap ($7.95) with sprouts, tomato and avocado.

Heavenly Health has a list of five burgers, the most popular of which is the black bean burger (7.95), which is made with pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions, tomato and a spicy mayonnaise on a multi-grain bun.

"People say it is the best they have ever tasted," Peterson says.

The Greek turkey burger ($8.95) is popular with customers who still eat poultry, seasoned with kalamata olives, feta and capers, and served on a brioche roll.

Panini, the grilled sandwiches, also are selling well. The most popular is the roasted chicken ($8.50) with baby spinach or broccoli rabe, and fontina cheese.

All panini are served on a multigrain bread or a multigrain roll. Most of the bread comes from local favorite Formica's Bakery.

Daily specials include soup, sandwich and a salad. Spicy quinoa-stuffed peppers and a wheatberry salad are two typical examples.

The cafe is attracting a mixed crowd of diners with everyone from strict vegans, to people looking to eat healthier, to people who still eat meat to some extent.

"They know they can come in and get a delicious meal that is healthy," Peterson says.

Peterson's vision for Heavenly Health Cafe is as a clearing house for people in need of help. Special events with a local chiropractor and a massage therapist are in the works.

"I am a strong Christian and I believe that our bodies are a temple," Peterson says. "I believe that we are to eat well, to live well, mentally, spiritually, physically, and that God gave me the vision to use what I have learned over all these years to help spread that."

Sandy Relief Benefit

Benefit for Sandy Relief at the Heavenly Health Cafe will feature four singers with acoustic guitars on Friday and Saturday December 14th and 15th at 7 p.m.

Sponsored by WXGN 90.5, a Christian radio station. $5 admission, with an a la carte light fare menu available. Free coffee in exchange for a donated canned good.