By Hope Yancey
Photos by Jonathan Cooper
Jyoti and Marc Friedland built a loyal following in Charlotte during the years they owned Talley’s Green Grocery, the natural foods market, café and bakery on East Boulevard that closed its doors in
The market, which was once featured on the Food Network, taught the couple much about operating a small business – and about community involvement, says Marc Friedland, who was the third generation of his family to be in the supermarket business.
The decision to close Talley’s was difficult but, with their newfound freedom, the two had time to enter politics. The name recognition from the store followed them. Just weeks after the closure, Marc was elected a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The convention was held in Denver that year, and both Friedlands went.
Now they own Jyoti’s World Cuisine, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant with a broad international menu and vegan bakery. It opened in August 2018 on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte, in a renovated space formerly occupied by Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian Cuisine. Sitting by the window in the bright, inviting dining room on a weekday afternoon, the Friedlands speak enthusiastically of their civic and political activities.
In 2009, Marc ran for Charlotte City Council. He tells the story of a candidates’ event he attended at the Excelsior Club. When he introduced himself as the former owner of Talley’s, he received a standing ovation that surprised him.
A few years later, in 2012, it was Jyoti Friedland’s turn to run for office. She ran for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. And in 2016, Marc ran for a county commission seat.
Not long after he filed, Jyoti was diagnosed with breast cancer – her second time – and sought treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “They listen to you,” she says, explaining how important it is to patients not to have to relinquish all their control and decision-making.
One lesson learned, she says, was to open up to friends and allow them to help, rather than keeping her struggle to herself. Friends from politics were a support system.
Jyoti is enjoying better health these days. “This is my love. This is my passion. This is my dream,” she says of being chef/owner of their new restaurant. She’s also active in local organizations serving Filipinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
As Marc quips, “There’s an old saying, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire,’ right? Well, we went from politics to restaurants. So I say, ‘We went out of the fire and into the frying pan.’”
The business is a family affair, as daughter, Mainjari, works there. They also have a son, Prabhat.
Among the world cuisines on the menu are Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Italian, Korean and more. It’s a place where one can order anything, from pasta with plant-based sausage to pad thai to Korean bibimbap – don’t fret, the menu explains the mixture of ingredients in this dish, which isserved over rice.
Customers who remember the Woodlands restaurant will be glad to see Indian food is well-represented: Samosa (an appetizer of potato filling and other vegetables, inside a flaky pastry crust), naan bread and dosa (lentil and rice crepe) are just a few choices. The restaurant has its own tandoor oven. Wash your meal down with an Indian mango lassi beverage.
Jyoti, 64, and Marc, 70, met in the Philippines, Jyoti’s native country. Marc was teaching yoga. Both are longtime vegetarians; their adherence to the diet grew out of their practice of yoga, meditation and ethical considerations.
Menu items are vegan with a vegetarian option, if a customer requests dairy products. Baked goods in the dessert display were originally vegetarian, but the restaurant switched to vegan for those as well, due to customer demand.
Vegan baked goods use no animal products; for example, almond or soy milk is substituted for dairy milk. The secret to a light, fluffy cake? Apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Sugar is organic.
Reaction from customers has been positive, even customers not following vegetarian or vegan diets. Kimsioux Montgomery and Ceretha Sherrill were dining at the restaurant on this day. Montgomery says she makes sure to order dessert first. She likes the consistent quality of the restaurant’s food. Sherrill cites the “superb” service.
“We don’t just want to be known as good vegetarian and vegan food; we want to be known as having good food,” Marc says. “Because if you’re only known as a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, the people who are not vegetarian and vegan won’t come.”
Special events have occasionally been part of the restaurant’s offerings. In November, a Thanksgiving Day menu highlighted seitan (a meat substitute made of wheat gluten) and tofu main dishes. Desserts, of course, were vegan pumpkin and apple pies. A vegan speed-dating event in April attracted customers as well.
The color red figures prominently in the restaurant, including signage, décor and staff attire. Jyoti likes the emotion the color elicits. In Chinese culture, red is thought to stimulate the appetite, she says. Butterflies are another favorite of hers, and the walls are outfitted accordingly with butterfly decorations.
It’s clear that people come to the restaurant for the food, but also for the hospitality of the Friedlands. Some pause by the table where Jyoti and Marc are seated to say hello. Somehow .the butterflies, with their symbolism of transformation, hope and life, seem appropriate here in this place, with Jyoti, an effusive hostess and a cancer survivor.
To learn more, visit online at worldcuisine.us. Many of the main dishes are $10.99 to $15.99.