G&G: How did Cafe Sunflower come to be?
Lin Sun: Edward and I became vegetarians in the early 90s. We were well into our restaurateur careers at that time in Asheville, North Carolina. We started learning about holistic health and proper diets through vegetarianism. We eventually sold the restaurants we were running and took a two-year hiatus from the business.
With our family of five, we took a cross-country road trip where we did a lot of soul-searching. We settled in Atlanta because of the educational opportunities for our kids.
Edward and I were shopping at a health food store in the Hammond Springs shopping center when we noticed a vacant restaurant space. We were drawn to the space, peeked through the window, and imagined the possibility of a vegetarian restaurant.
After three months of building out the space, the first three months we were in business was terrible. We started thinking of a plan B. It was with a stroke of luck (and probably lots of hard work), that the Atlanta Journal Constitution published a great review that put us on the map. It transformed us overnight. Our restaurant was packed at both lunch and dinner. We were also named one of the ten best restaurants that year!
G&G: Where do you find inspiration for your recipes?
Lin Sun: I love to travel. So much of our food is influenced by the places that I visit domestically and abroad. The most recent trip I took was with my mother and daughter. We went on a 12-day journey to Dubai, Mumbai, and London. None of us had ever been to the Middle East or India, and it was eye-opening for all of us. On that trip, we learned about spices. Especially saffron and masala mixes. We came back with kilos of curries and masala which we’re using now in our curries.
G&G: What do you love most about Cafe Sunflower?
Lin Sun: I love seeing people gather over a meal. Whether it's a business lunch or a birthday party, it's a joy to see our customers come together to take a moment, enjoy our food, and feel good about it.
G&G: What is one of your fondest memories at Cafe Sunflower?
Lin Sun: A few years ago, my daughter got engaged, and we discussed where to have her wedding reception. Without hesitation, she said, “Mom, I want to have it at your restaurant.”
We love hosting parties and being in the restaurant business, I couldn’t say no. The whole family worked together to put on one of the best weddings I’ve ever been a part of. It was a magical day.
Our restaurant is pretty cozy, and we had well over a hundred people crowded into the restaurant that night. We didn’t have room for a dance floor or any of the usual wedding entertainment. There was a flamenco guitarist, belly dancer, tarot card reader, and a Smilebooth. People had such a great time and ended up dancing until four in the morning with an impromptu DJ! All of our family and closest friends - many who traveled from far away - came together to celebrate in a place that is so special to us.
G&G: We've heard Cafe Sunflower is a favorite spot for a lot of celebrities. What celebs have you enjoyed feeding?
Lin Sun: In the 20 years we've been in business, we've had a lot of celebrities dine with us. We see even more of them since Atlanta has become a movie-making hub. Off the top of my head, we've served Woody Harrelson, Stevie Wonder, Lucy Liu, Samuel L. Jackson, and Reese Witherspoon. We catered for R.E.M. many years ago. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith dined with us once, and he enjoyed it so much he approached me at the end of the meal, bowed and said, "Namaste!"
G&G: Tell us about your experience cooking a G&G meal
Lin Sun: I learned about G&G from my daughter who shops at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market for the restaurant. I loved the community aspect of G&G where each meal is chef-driven and all the ingredients sourced locally. You can really taste the thought and care that went into each recipe.
G&G: If you were a fruit or veggie, what would you be and why?
Lin Sun: I love so many different fruits and vegetables. I'm on an avocado kick right now. We recently added a couple of new dishes to our menu that include avocados. I also make a smoothie that's packed with leafy greens and avocado that my husband and I enjoy every morning before we go to work.
Taste the difference Chef Lin Sun's passion makes with her Falafel Pita this week!