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Ohio State alum forgoes menus at local restaurant to feed community

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Vincent Withers, owner of Cafe Bella, stands in the garden outside of his restaurant. Credit: Olivia Hamilton / Lantern Reporter

Vincent Withers gained ownership of Cafe Bella in 2008. Since then, he has thrown out the menu and been working on growing his own produce and giving away free food to those in need.

After graduating with a degree in engineering from Ohio State, Withers worked at a small company that picked up contracts through the Department of Defense for a couple of years. During that time, he frequented Cafe Bella, becoming friends with then-owner Carlo Borgia.

“I didn’t like what I was doing and Carlo listened and he suggested that I take over,” Withers said, “He was done and wanted me to take over, and I said, ‘No way.’”

Withers, though, began cooking for people in his neighborhood and his friends and family.

“I cooked for birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. That gave me enough revenue to sustain taking over (Cafe Bella). All I had to do was take care of my close circle,” Withers said.

Originally, Cafe Bella was an Italian deli that turned into the restaurant. Now, under Withers, it is Italian family-style dining.

Instead of handing his customers a menu, Withers creates a daily special based off of whatever ingredients are seasonal and the produce available from his garden behind the restaurant. Withers asks customers if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies to accommodate for them.

“I just took the best from Carlo, which was his ability to freestyle a pasta dish,” Withers said. “With that, even if they’re vegan, gluten free, I am able to put together something that is shared family style.”

Withers said he has been cooking ever since he could reach the counter.

“I got a lot of cooking at the grandparents’ house. We always had a family farm, so I knew where food came from,” Withers said. “Growing up, we focused on what was fresh, fabulous and available.”

Withers said he had some restaurant experience while he was in college and that his engineering degree has been helpful with his cooking.

“With the engineering degree and with the disenfranchisement of my previous life, I was able to just take on a new challenge, putting the same type of engineering skills sets to food,” Withers said. “I’m happy putting the creative problem solving skills to use with food.”

Withers has also worked with The Choice Pantry of Central Seventh Day Adventists, located at 80 S. 18th St., for four years.

“In just counting on making food for friends and family, I’ve been able to free myself up to do a lot of philanthropy things. I’ve been able to grow from seed and give away over 4,000 pounds of food,” Withers said.

Withers said he wants to keep the restaurant open into later hours this spring and summer. He also wants to incorporate a grab-and-go format for those later hours, which would be different than Cafe Bella’s typical sit-down format.

“I’m happy putting the creative problem-solving skills to use with food. Just the community and developing a network of people in the area that need food and a place to come together. It’s been really rewarding,” Withers said.

Cafe Bella is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open 11 a.m  to 2 p.m.

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