Vegan restaurant near Chattanooga's Coolidge Park plans to expand

Kristiana Mallo, co-owner of Cashew, reaches for a sweet treat under glass at the checkout counter on Wednesday. The establishment will soon expand to double their present space for staff and patrons.

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A tiny kitchen. A dining room that seats only 18 people. Not enough space to make ice cream.

Those are some of the constraints that Cashew, a vegan restaurant on Chattanooga's North Shore near Coolidge Park, plans to get around by knocking down a wall and expanding into the space next door.

The restaurant's owners, Bailey Cole and Kristiana Mallo, have launched a $35,000 fundraising campaign on the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. It had raised just under $12,000 on Wednesday afternoon with 12 days left to go.

"The majority of people who have pledged are our customers," Cole said.

Mallo said, "We've got a super-awesome customer base."

One of the Kickstarter rewards that has been the most popular, Cole said, is 10 entrees for $100, which never expires.

photo Kristiana Mallo works in the tiny kitchen space at Cashew on River Street. Soon, the vegan cafe will double in size after an expansion next door.

The duo, who used to work together at the Whole Foods supermarket in North Chattanooga, launched the restaurant in 2013.

"We opened Cashew on a very, very minimal budget," Cole said.

They were inspired in part by Rip Esselstyn, a former firefighter and triathlete who's the author of "The Engine 2 Diet."

After switching to Esselstyn's plant-based, low-oil diet, Cole said, "We both loved the way we felt."

Cashew gets its name from the cashew-based "cheese" that was one of the restaurant's first hits.

"It's what makes our nachos so addictive," said Cole, who's the only person who knows the exact recipe for the cheese.

photo Kristiana Mallo, co-owner of Cashew, enters the current front door of the vegan cafe on River Street. The red door behind her will soon be opened and the adjoining wall knocked out to double the size of the establishment.

Mojo Burrito started to use Cashew's cheese on its vegan offerings, so Cashew now produces 40 gallons of the cheese a week. That's one reason the restaurant is roughly doubling in size.

Cashew also plans to use the extra space to expand its baking, to make vegan ice cream in-house and to be able serve wine in addition to beer and cider.

The restaurant has to seat 40 in order to serve wine, Mallo said, and it's too small now for that.

When the space next door came open, the business partners decided to jump on the opportunity.

They have committed to expand, which will cost a total of around $100,000, even if they don't reach their $35,000 fundraising goal.

"We've wanted to grow, but having to pick up and move your restaurant - it's scary," Cole said. "We kind of have to do it now, or lose our chance."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.