Nick Raftis is the third owner of Inn Season Cafe, the small but mighty vegetarian and vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak. But for Raftis, Inn Season Cafe is as much an institution as it is a business.
Raftis grew up in the 1960s and '70s, a time when vegetarian options were scarce, when, as Raftis tells it, your average restaurant left vegetarians little choice but to order a hamburger without the meat. Things are different these days, though, and dining options for vegetarians are much more varied and available.
In the face of rising competition, Inn Season has managed to not only stay open but thrive.
Inn Season Cafe was established in 1981 and Raftis purchased the business in 2002. But Raftis doesn't believe in resting on one's laurels. The key to success, he says, is change.
"You have to change according to the times," Raftis says. "Our food quality has gone way up. As the compromised integrity of the food products in our normal food channels have become corrupted, we've moved to those where we know where it's grown, how it's grown."
Focusing on local and organic food products is just one way Inn Season Cafe has been able to stay successful. Raftis has another philosophy for running a business and that's to make necessary long-term decisions.
While it might be painful to make those infrastructure upgrades that don't result in any immediate and obvious returns, it's the customers who notice. As Raftis says, "You can get cheap with the money but it fafects the experience."
Raftis himself has an interesting backstory. He was born in Detroit and grew up through the cultural shifts of the late 1960s. As a teenager, he spent time hanging out at the Hare Krishna temple in Detroit. A vegetarian by the age of 16, Raftis would travel around India when he was 18 years old.
He's owned several businesses since then, including an engineering firm, the Sunflower Cafe in Ann Arbor, and a video rental store in Saginaw. A singer and songwriter, he's currently recording an album produced by local rocker Tino Gross of the Howling Diablos.
Though it may have been established in 1981, the restaurant doesn't feel out of date. Raftis points out that only the ceiling and molding – and maybe a mirror – remain from the dining room's past.
The kitchen equipment has been modernized, and the HVAC system is up to date. You could say that the one constant is the food, but the Inn Season Cafe team is constantly trying to improve that, too.
The person that makes the food, however, has been leading the Inn Season Cafe kitchen for over two decades. Raftis, of course, credits much of the restaurant's success to Chef Thomas Lasher and recently sold him a stake in the business.
Lasher creates delicious healthy food, an important distinction from vegetarian and vegan plates that can often feel bland and uninspired, says Raftis. Whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, or even a meat eater, Lasher creates dishes that are healthy and satisfying.
"The good food, when you eat it, you feel energized. Like, hey man, let's go do something. Let's get up and walk around," says Raftis. "And that's the way people feel when they eat here."
35 years and counting.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.