Or­ganic eatery in Hugh­son brings health­ful food to ag heart­land

The Modesto Bee - - Front Page - Mar­i­jke Row­land: 209-578-2284, @mar­i­jkerow­land

Say or­ganic food and some might en­vi­sion earthy-crunchy con­coc­tions that are high on health and low on fla­vor.

But at Hugh­son’s new Don’t Panic It’s Or­ganic, good for you and good tast­ing col­lide in a pleas­ant pack­age. The fam­i­lyrun eatery of­fers or­ganic cafe food — like sand­wiches and sal­ads, chili bowls and smooth­ies. They also of­fer a full juice bar, smooth­ies, cof­fee and tea.

Owner Katherine Ber­tolotti and her fam­ily be­gan eat­ing or­ganic close to two years ago. The Modesto na­tive now lives in Hugh­son, as do her mother, sis­ter and brother in the heart of the com­mu­nity’s farm­ing land. But then, her now 7-year-old son be­gan to de­velop se­vere al­ler­gies — in­clud­ing rashes and asthma at­tacks. She wor­ried that the pes­ti­cides on their food and used in their sur­round­ing or­chards might be part of the prob­lem.

So she switched her fam­ily to or­ganic foods at home and stopped us­ing pes­ti­cides on their trees, and then con­vinced the rest of her fam­ily to do the same. But eat­ing out was still a chal­lenge, as few restau­rants of­fer solely or­ganic fare.

“I was cook­ing and pre­par­ing food at home all the time. And I thought, ‘Man, this is a lot of work. If only I could get some­one to do it for me,’” she said.

But in­stead of that, she de­cided to do it for other peo­ple. Ber­tolotti and her brother David Ming­ham opened the eatery Don’t Panic It’s Or­ganic in late Oc­to­ber. The restau­rant of­fers break­fast, lunch and light din­ner op­tions as well as spe­cialty fresh juice, cof­fee, tea and smoothie drinks. And to prove or­ganic food isn’t all whole­some, they also of­fer wine and grapeliquor based cock­tails like bloody marys and mar­gar­i­tas. Heck, they even have kom­bucha (a fer­mented tea) on draft, along with a hand­ful of beers.

Ming­ham serves as the restau­rant man­ager, and his sis­ter Sarah and mother Lisa also work be­hind the counter. They source many of their prod­ucts lo­cally, from small or­ganic farms like Bur­roughs Fam­ily Farms and We the Peo­ple Farms from De­nair. The vast ma­jor­ity of the prod­ucts they use are or­ganic, while oth­ers are gluten-free and some of their meat and poul­try are free-range or grass-fed.

The restau­rant doesn’t have a full kitchen, so its fare is on the lighter side. But you can still get a heap­ing plate of grass-fed beef chili na­chos ($12) or a large or­ganic salami sand­wich on roll from Berke­ley’s Acme Bread ($9).

An­other at­trac­tion is the fresh juice bar. You can or­der a Healthy Heart­beat made from ap­ple, beet, cel­ery, lemon and ginger or the Im­mu­nity Booster with cel­ery, spinach, kale, lemon, ginger and gar­lic. Juices run $7.49 each. Power up any drink with a wheat grass shot for $3 or a “gut shot” of ginger beet, golden turmeric and smoked jalapeno for $1. Smooth­ies, which also run $7.49 each, range from su­per­food fa­vorites and fruit-based op­tions to a peanut but­ter and ba­nana sweet treat and clas­sic straw­berry and ba­nana.

Ber­tolotti said she ini­tially thought about open­ing pos­si­bly in Modesto or else­where, but de­cided on Hugh­son be­cause it was so close to home. While she wor­ried that the small farm­ing com­mu­nity might not be re­cep­tive, she said, peo­ple have gen­er­ally been pleased when they’ve come in. Though there have been a lot of ques­tions.

“Peo­ple say, ‘Oh, you’re or­ganic. So this is ve­gan.’ And we’re like, no, we eat meat. It’s just grass-fed and health­ier,” she said.

The restau­rant has op­tions for peo­ple look­ing for or­ganic meals, gluten­free or pro­bi­otic op­tions, pa­leo menus and more. And it joins a small spate of eater­ies in and com­ing to Hugh­son which have made the small town a mini-foodie des­ti­na­tion. They in­clude the new joint Slick Fork BBQ and up­com­ing Cal­la­han’s Brew­ing Com­pany. Don’t Panic It’s Or­ganic is also in the same shop­ping cen­ter as the pop­u­lar Agave Azul Kitchen & Tequila Bar.

As for that great name, well, it came from her fa­ther, who used to re­as­sure her when her kids came over and he fed them.

“My dad would say, ‘Don’t panic, it’s or­ganic.’ And I’d say, ‘Sure, let me read the la­bel,’” she said. “We re­ally just want to cook and feed peo­ple good food.”

Don’t Panic It’s Or­ganic, at 6724 E. Whit­more Ave. in Hugh­son, is open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tues­day to Thurs­day and 6 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Fri­day and Satur­day. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 209-883-7227 or visit www.face­book.com/dont.panic.its.or­ganic. hugh son

ANDY ALFARO aal­faro@mod­bee.com

Owner Katherine Ber­tolotti, left, and her brother/man­ager David Ming­ham look at a box of mush­rooms that will be made into cream of mush­room soup at Don't Panic It's Or­ganic eatery in Hugh­son Wed­nes­day.

BY MAR­I­JKE ROW­LAND mrow­land@mod­bee.com

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