The brainchild of ML Obermaier, Polymath Educational Cafe LLC was inspired by a passion for healthy eating and diverse intellectual pursuits.
Obermaier considers herself a polymath, defined as a person of great and diversified learning. She has a background as a math specialist, computer programming teacher, artificial intelligence enthusiast, and seasoned professional in the fields of photography and cooking.
As a result, she says she was driven to create a place that celebrated nourishment and knowledge.
“When choosing the name Polymath Educational Cafe, I wanted it to reflect the essence of what we stand for. Poly means many, and math means things. Many great polymaths throughout history also embraced a healthy lifestyle,” Obermaier says, pointing to Benjamin Franklin as an example.
The cafe’s journey began October 2017 in Marshfield, where it offered not only plant-based food but also a free lending library and meeting rooms. The decision to open the cafe was partly inspired by the closure of a downtown Springfield vegan restaurant, WellSpring Cafe.
“After that, there weren’t very many options for healthy eating,” Obermaier says, adding that she knew there was a need for that market.
Having lived 20 years in California, 20 years in New Mexico and the past 20 years in Missouri, Obermaier says she enjoys incorporating flavors from all those regions.
“In California, we have healthy, fresh foods; in New Mexico I love using roasted hatch green chile; and from Missouri, barbecue,” Obermaier says, laughing that in keeping with the theme of her cafe, her foods also contain a multitude of ideas. “I can’t pick a theme – that is my theme!”
Like so many businesses during the pandemic, Obermaier had to reevaluate her operations as business slowed down.
“In 2019 and early 2020, we were doing really well,” she says.
But when people weren’t coming in to eat, use Wi-Fi or hold meetings, Obermaier closed the retail side of the business and now uses it for private rentals and meal planning services.
“We’re getting more and more people on specialized diets, like no salt, no gluten and dairy free,” Obermaier says.
Polymath Educational Cafe in Marshfield creates weekly plant-based, to-go meals starting at $45, as well as grab-and-go items starting at $5 apiece, such as the popular tabouli salad. She says a current customer favorite has been a dish featuring sweet potatoes and black beans over rice.
“It’s sweetened with maple syrup,” she says.
Obermaier notes that customers can contact the cafe online or by phone to place advance orders. At the pop-up location, Obermaier makes soups and baked treats that are available in limited supply, in addition to prepackaged snacks and bottled coffees and teas.
In May, the cafe embarked on what Obermaier describes as an unexpected yet exciting journey of expansion. With a considerable number of customers coming from Springfield, Obermaier was looking to reach out to a broader audience. The cafe space opened up in the Springfield-Greene County District’s Library Center, after Seattle Roast Coffee departed, and Polymath Educational Cafe took the opportunity for a long-term pop-up grab-and-go shop. Paying $15 a week in rent for the 1,100-square feet location, Obermaier is in agreement with the library to lease the space week to week, knowing that when the branch undergoes renovations this fall, the pop-up location will close permanently.
Vickie Hicks, the library district’s communications director, says having a pop-up cafe fills a need, offering treats, coffee and lunch for library patrons and staff.
“This current arrangement allows us the flexibility to give little notice should our plans or needs be adjusted,” Hicks says.
The Library Center is working with Sapp Design Associates Architects Inc. over the next few months to plan the remodel, and Hicks says they hope to include a coffee shop or cafe in the new space.
With a weekly commitment, Obermaier has plans to stay at The Library Center through December to help recoup costs, barring any schedule changes on the library’s part.
“Startup costs were higher than I anticipated,” Obermaier says, adding that she anticipates to break even by the end of August, about three months after opening the pop-up.
To get the cafe ready at The Library Center, Obermaier says she purchased new equipment and inventory to stock the cafe, plus standard new business fees. In addition, living in Marshfield, she says the commute can add up due to rising gas costs. Between the Marshfield location and the pop-up, however, Obermaier says her annual revenue has been the highest since 2019, although she did not disclose the amount.
Obermaier’s goals are to get back to volunteering more through the cafe.
“In the past, we’ve cooked dinner at the Rare Breed and Glo Center,” she says. “We’ve also donated to Project Graduations, several fundraisers for local groups, and taught cooking classes through Marshfield’s Power of Produce.”
Obermaier and one of her daughters also creates cooking lessons on YouTube, which she says is a fun experience.
“I don’t use recipes,” she says. “So, people tend to like to watch me cook.”
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