Los Angeles Vegetarian Restaurant - Our Story
The story of Cinnamon Vegetarian Restaurant, located in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles, actually begins many years ago in Bogota, Colombia in South America.
Seventeen years ago, William Cano, owner of Cinnamon, and his wife Norma had together converted to vegetarianism at the same time they became part of the Universal Brotherhood, a nondenominational movement committed to teaching that we all are of one spiritual origin. He had been provided a booklet by the brotherhood on the virtues of vegetarianism and understood instantly the benefits of such a diet to his physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
As part of his daily routine, he learned how to prepare nonviolent food. He studied the culinary arts and took up Ayurveda and yoga, which he still practices today. “At that time in my life, my world was changing very fast,” says Cano. “I hadn’t yet realized that virtually everything and anything good that we strive to be – loving, forgiving, compassionate – are daily yogic practices like the physical yogas. Especially how we eat.”
At the same time, William befriended a group of Brotherhood members, all who were accomplished vegetarian chefs. “We would prepare and eat vegetarian food and talk for hours about how good the food made us feel,” says Cano. “We noticed that certain ingredients produced tastes that were then accentuated by the feeling we had while we were preparing and cooking the food.”
These memorable experiences with food and friendship planted a seed and it became William’s dream to someday open a vegetarian restaurant, a dream that would eventually be forgotten as he worked and, together with Norma, raised their family that includes their daughter Cassandra and their son Abrian, both life-long vegetarians. It wasn’t until moving to the Silicon Valley in 1998 and taking a position with a large software development company that the dream began to again take shape.
Cano’s association with the Universal Brotherhood allowed him to meet many creative and aspiring spiritual seekers, one of whom renewed his dream to open a restaurant. “At that time, I was looking for a way to merge my spiritual practice with my business practice,” says Cano. “I had become obsessed with wanting to help people become aware of the relationship between what you eat and how you feel.” Planning and preparations to open Cinnamon in Los Angeles began, purposely locating it in the enclave of Highland Park so as to expose to the predominantly Latin American community to vegetarian food.
To assemble the best team for Cinnamon, William worked closely with Brotherhood member and friend Alma Correles and looked to his sister Esperanza, the middle sister of a family of eight children. She had always cooked for the family when they were all living together in Colombia. “If we ever wanted to find Esperanza, we looked in the kitchen,” says William with a smile. “She was always preparing dinner and treats for the rest of us.”
Esperanza fondly recalls shared nights with her brother in Colombia, walking into the town square of her village and looking up at the night sky and sharing conversations and dreams under the stars. By the 1990’s, she had, like most of the Cano family, relocated to the United States. She had always been drawn to the big cities of America. “People come to cities to make their dreams happen,” says Esperanza, whose name translates literally into “hope”. “That’s one of the things about Los Angeles we all love; the creative, wonderful people who come to Los Angeles to do their thing. It’s a city of artists and dreamers.”
Esperanza resided in both New York City and Santa Clara, where she worked as a nanny and cooked and cared for children and the elderly. “Just as in my own family in Colombia when I was young, I like to take care of people I love and a great way to care for them is to prepare loving food for them. Not just my love, but the love that comes from food that doesn’t harm the animals,” she says. Esperanza soon relocated to Highland Park to help open Cinnamon Vegetarian by developing the menu and overseeing the final construction of the space that would become Cinnamon.
While trying to decide on a name for the new restaurant, Cano consulted his family who suggested “Cinnamon”, associating the flavor and aroma with a delicious tea prepared for them by their Aunt Esperanza. (The same tea served daily at Cinnamon!) "As a family, we do our practices together, including learning about food and herbs," says Norma, William's wife. "We knew that cinnamon possesses curative properties, including drawing prosperity and health. We all agreed that naming the restaurant "Cinnamon" would be a good omen for the restaurant, for us and for the customers."
Cinnamon Restaurant opened on September 23, 2006 to mixed reviews. “On opening day, everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” says Esperanza, laughing. “Actually, that describes the entire first year. We didn’t have any experience opening and operating a restaurant. We just had the best intentions and delicious food.”
There exist cultural differences between Colombian and American traditions that created challenges in the way they understood restaurant service. “In Colombia,” says William, “eating is never a hurry-up-and-be-done affair. It’s a moment to take your time, eat slow, visit with friends and relax. We weren’t prepared initially for the fast pace of Los Angeles. We let customers wait too long for their food to be prepared.”
The type of people, however, who came to Cinnamon to eat were forgiving, adventurous souls who kept coming back and telling their friends, having faith that the obviously good intentioned folks would figure it all out. “There’s one thing that helped us survive that first year … Our chicken molé,” says Esperanza with a big smile, referring to their most popular dish. “Our biggest critics couldn’t stay away long.”
Today, as Cinnamon approaches their third anniversary, having survived past the timeline that most Los Angeles restaurants fail, the restaurant now bustles with trendy, urban hipsters, hippies, young and old trendsetters, professionals and families … in short, a clientele as diverse as is Highland Park and Los Angeles. They are sporting a new and handsome website featuring photos of Cinnamon’s signature dishes and are staffed with a wonderful and loving team committed to serving up delicious and healthy vegetarian meals with friendly and loving service.
Thank you for being part of our story.