Jenna Jacobs McPartland did not plan on opening a vegan restaurant.
She grew up in suburban Minnesota; moved to New York at 20 to study at a conservatory; acted off-Broadway, got married; got pregnant.
Her husband was killed on 9/11. Six days later, their son was born.
Jenna was lifted by the kindness of friends, and strangers. After hand-writing 1,200 notes — and realizing how many people did not have the support she did, after her husband died very publicly — she helped start September Smiles, a non-profit to help non-9/11 widows deal with tragedy.
Jenna remarried, and moved to her husband’s home in Weston. She finally reached Broadway — with a walk-on role in “Oklahoma!” for one night, 3 days before it closed.
She divorced, and married her “third and final” husband. Jenna now lives in Westport, with her blended family.
A few years ago she read “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. She had already given up red meat, but now went fully vegan. As part of “learning how to really cook,” she attended New York’s Natural Gourmet Center. She graduated in 2015.
Jenna began looking for Westport locations, to start a vegan restaurant. Last year she bought the Stand Juice Bar at Fairfield’s Sportsplex. It was the right opportunity — she would not have to build a customer base from scratch.
Now called the Stand Vegan Café — with a full menu — she’s made it her own. She believes in “whole, organic, non-GMO, local plant foods for the planet, the animals, our bodies, and our spirits.” (She also believes “a yummy cookie is totally worth it once in a while!”)
Jenna calls her menu “very comfort food-y.” Breakfast (served all day) ranges from tofu broccoli quiche and ancient grain oatmeal to Belgian waffles and a very popular Seitan bagel sandwich.
Lunch includes soups, a hummus plate, sandwiches and wraps, cauliflower-based mac and cheese, salads and toasts. There’s a full bakery, and of course juices and smoothies. Many of the dishes can be made gluten-free.
“It’s a gentle introduction to veganism,” Jenna explains. She realizes non-vegans resent being called “unethical or wrong” for their diets.
Jenna is proud that “a lot of non-vegans come in and love what we serve.” She’s threading the needle, with food that’s “interesting enough for hard-core vegans, but approachable enough for skeptics.”
Good food, she says, is “all about high-quality ingredients, with high-quality techniques.”
The Stand Café is “almost a zero-waste establishment.” A farmer collects all her scraps for his fields. Nearly all material is compostable.
She pays her employees above standard restaurant rates. “We’re a family,” Jenna says.
That’s not entire selfless, of course. With 6 children ages 21 to 9 in her blended family, she needs “a life outside my restaurant. Everyone who works here loves what we do. We feel like we’re achieving something together. We all look out for each other, and cover each other.”
Besides her “Oklahoma” walk-on role, Jenna Jacobs McPartland did not make it to Broadway. But her Stand Café is now a shining star.
(Jenna also supports local artists. Every 3 months, she features someone different on her walls. Next up: Westport artist Lisa Stretton.)