Along with a diversifying global cuisine, some local food establishments are catering to alternative lifestyles.
Later this month, Sunflower Cafe and Bakery will open at 145 W. Fourth St. with a variety of breads and treats for those who lead a gluten-free lifestyle.
Owner Judy Ryder has celiac disease and cannot eat foods containing gluten. That made life a bit difficult amid a wheat-based society.
Steve Koch holds the Bullfrog Brewery’s tofu sandwich.
"I know for myself, there's nothing in the area that I feel safe eating," she said.
She realized she was not alone. So 2 1/2 years ago, Ryder began baking gluten-free breads and other goods out of her house. And the customers came, leading Ryder ultimately to take the next step with her Sunflower Cafe.
Besides offering gluten-free products, Ryder wants to use her knowledge to help others.
"There are so many aspects of the business," Ryder said. "I want to educate my customers on how to cook, shop and live well. A lot of them don't know how to maintain their diet and stay well. There are a lot of education opportunities."
To make sure the business would be successful downtown, Ryder researched the number of people who lead a gluten-free lifestyle.
"I didn't open the business based on people who want to randomly be on a gluten-free diet," she said. "As far as any medical studies go, every one in 130 people have celiac, but not all are diagnosed."
And not all people who need to follow a gluten-free lifestyle are celiac. Some have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, which can cause its own health problems.
"There are definite medical benefits for those who can't have gluten," Ryder said. "Digestive problems. Arthritis problems. There's a variety of side effects from it. In the end, (for Ryder) it was connected to celiac disease."
And the taste of the gluten-free products?
"I've had a lot of people test my products," she said. "Had I not told them they're gluten-free, they'd have no idea."
She attributes the taste remaining true to their wheat counterparts to the blends of grains she substitutes.
Ryder also plans to offer other products that are allergen-free, recognizing the number of people with allergies connected to eggs, milk, nuts and more.
While hers may be the first local establishment dedicated to gluten-free living, it is not the only place that caters to those with alternative eating styles.
While many people associate the Bullfrog Brewery at 229 W. Fourth St. with its hand-crafted beers and ales, the menu offers vegan choices.
Owner Steve Koch introduced vegan choices there, knowing how difficult it can be to find options when going out. He started the lifestyle about 13 years ago.
There are different levels of vegetarianism. A vegetarian does not eat meat products. Vegan refers to not eating any animal products, which would include honey, eggs and dairy products. A rawist eats only uncooked whole plant foods.
Koch identified strictly as a rawist for eight years, but now considers himself predominately vegan, with an emphasis on raw food.
People are becoming more sensitive to alternative diets, Koch said.
Part of the appeal comes from using fresher ingredients. Almost 40 percent of the menu is locally produced, another big food trend, including vegetables, cheeses and breads.
Some of the herbs and culinary flowers are grown on the roof of the brewery. Last year, Koch grew carrots, tomatoes and hot peppers. This year, he already has oregano, thyme, parsley, tarragon and sage growing.
Most restaurants offer some options for people on alternative diets, but it has taken a while for that trend to kick in locally.
"We were the first to address the need in the market" here, Koch said, noting he is trying to raise awareness about it.
And it's not just what we eat but how we eat that food trends are developing around.
Ten years ago, next to nobody was setting up outdoor seating areas for their customers to enjoy the nicer weather, but now a whole new generation of restauranteurs have made a trend of that concept.
Tables have been popping up outside newer places such as Barrel 135 and King of Harts, a block apart on West Third Street, as well as older venues, such as the Genetti Hotel where patrons now may be seen sipping drinks and having a bite to eat before heading to a show next door at the Community Arts Center.
And it seems that this trend is just taking off, as permit applications to allow outdoor seating have been appearing more frequently in City Hall, seldom, if ever, to any objection.
As recent as just this past week, yet another request flowed smoothly past city officials for outdoor seating, this time for Alabaster Coffee and Tea Co. at 410 Pine St.
Once again, nobody seemed to mind.