When Ann Marie and Garland Cherry opened up Cherry’s Natural Foods, they had no intention of turning it into a café. The husband-and-wife team was solely focused on bringing a health food store to South Jersey, offering quality, health-conscious produce and goods in a place where such things are often hard to get hold of.

“We wanted to have access to good healthy food, but it turned into something more,” Ann Marie says.

It was only when they realized that, as a small local business, they couldn’t stand up to big, national stores dipping their toes into the organic sector, that they added the coffee shop and café to Cherry’s Natural Foods.

“The café was something that came later. We wanted to be a health food store, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of big box stores are carrying organic sections as well,” Garland says. “I think the demand (for a health food store) is less than we anticipated, but the demand for a café was more than we anticipated.

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Cherry’s Natural Food’s turkey sandwich features organic, fresh-roasted turkey breast, above, and is served alongside an organic turkey chili.

“It’s like being in a small boat out in the rough seas. You either make the adjustment or you start to go down quick.”

Without any formal culinary background, Ann Marie turned to her own home recipe book to create the hearty soups, fresh salads and satisfying sandwiches offered at Cherry’s.

“This is the food that I make for my family,” she says proudly. “Everything that I sell in the store is what I give to them. I want to share that. The recipes I use took years to come up with and they’re fantastic.

“We do things differently. Our chicken salad, for example, is the same one I feed my family. I don’t use mayonnaise. I don’t want to use mayonnaise. Instead we use vegenaise — it’s a healthier option.”

Ann Marie’s creativity in the kitchen was born of necessity, as Garland has an intolerance toward gluten and dairy, something Ann Marie also developed. And her acai bowls, granola with homemade coconut chips, revitalizing smoothies made with super foods, daily soup specials, paninis and homemade turkey chili have been wowing customers, many of whom are also taking advantage of the packaged foods and supplements Cherry’s offers, bringing the health home with them.

“We’re not just getting on the (gluten-free) bandwagon. There are a lot of people that don’t feel well and they don’t even recognize the relationship between what they’re eating and how they’re feeling. Foods that you love and you think make you feel good could actually be doing the opposite,” Garland says.

Their food is complemented by fresh, organic, high end coffee. It’s brewed with spring water only, which the Cherrys decided to implement despite its high cost and inconvenience, to improve quality. As Garland says, “coffee is mostly water.”

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Garland Cherry, owner of Cherry’s Natural Foods, dollops organic peanut butter on the top of an acai bowl, one of the most popular items at the grocery market turned cafe in Cape May Court House. Friday, December 22

“Some people would call us health nuts, but we think it’s just smart eating,” Ann Marie says. “A lot of our customers are coming in with these problems, and there’s a lot of research out there to back up cutting out gluten and dairy … When people come in we do what we can. We direct them toward supplements and vitamins — we’ve educated a lot of people.”

Besides the wholesome food, the Cherrys have also cultivated a warm, quaint atmosphere at their cafe. With a feel that Garland calls “organic,” the store is attached to a building that historians claim to be around 200 years old. Garland himself, who is a lawyer by trade, renovated much of the building to make it fit for their purposes. Beautiful wood floors, reclaimed lumber and large marble-top tables give Cherry’s the look of something out of Nantucket or New Hope.

And this is only the beginning for Cherry’s. With increasing excitement, Garland rattles off a list of things he and Ann Marie hope to do in the future: a pop-up event for Valentine’s Day, acoustic guitar on the outside deck on the weekends, making more dishes fully vegan — something that has piqued Garland’s interest of late as a health trend to incorporate into the menu.

“We really are open to doing new and different things,” he says. “We’re trying to keep up with science — to stay on top of health movements — and be a service to the community.”

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