February 23, 2021
By: Bill Conger
The White Possum Restaurant Owner/Manager Rawlin Vanatta is the kind of guy that steps out in faith. He’s proving that again with a business gamble that could either propel his award-winning business to the next level or destroy the dream that he laid down the foundation for ten years ago.
“Many will say that we are crazy, that what we are doing is impossible,” admits Vanatta. “But the thing is, we’ve been told that before and with faith in God, we believe that the right thing to do is the right thing to do and will be blessed.”
At the end of 2020 Vanatta temporarily shuttered the doors at both the Smithville and Sparta restaurant locations for a major overhaul of his business. Since opening in 2011, Vanatta cooked up delicious dishes, but in recent years he discovered with the help of a close friend that much of his menu wasn’t good for his customers’ health.
“He said things like high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol and even many cancers were caused not by genes, as big pharma wants us to think, but instead were caused by the food on their fork, and he could show me the studies that proved it,” Vanatta explained.
“Over the next few years, I slowly realized that almost everything I had thought I knew about health and diet was wrong and worse how many people were needlessly suffering because this information had been kept from them.”
Looking at his newborn son, Strickland, one day Rawlin knew he had to help change the future. No longer could he in good conscience provide the same foods to his customers that he believes is destroying their lives. When White Possum opens again on March 1, the inside décor will reflect the healthy food options that Vanatta will provide to the public.
“Vegan is not the right word. Some people may call us that, but what we are focused on is bringing our community a menu that is both great tasting and healing. The science in total easily points towards a plant-based lifestyle as being the healthiest lifestyle, however, a traditional vegan menu wouldn’t meet the criteria. So we prefer the term plant-based restaurant.”
“The menu will look almost totally different but in a really fun way, kinda like getting a new car, and the new car has all the options. Yeah, there are lots of fond memories in that old car, but no one would choose the old car over the new one. The menu will be like that, a total upgrade.”
“All the recipes will be developed by me, my wife, my family, my team, etc.
It’s funny, so many people when they hear the word “plant based” or “vegan” they believe it’s a sad life of turnip greens, spinach and celery all day,” he said, laughing.
But that’s not the truth at all. We will have some of the best lasagna that you can imagine. We will still have the nachos that so many people loved. (upgraded versions of course) I can’t reveal too many secrets, but believe me, people are really going to be shocked when they are sitting inside the new White Possum and put these foods in their mouth. It’s going to be incredible.”
In the Beginning
Back in 2011, Vanatta was working part-time at a local café and preparing to tie the knot with Jessie Vanatta who longed to be a stay-at-home mother to a big family.
“I was starting to get really nervous because our wedding day was only a month away, and I still hadn’t found another job. I did have one idea, though. It was a long shot but, but in my mind I knew if I did it right, over time it would solve my problem.”
Vanatta gave birth to a new restaurant for Smithville.
“My great grandfather back in the 1920’s ran a business selling moonshine and was doing pretty well at it, but one day while working he saw a White Possum. A lot of people don’t know, but back then when someone saw a white albino possum, it was seen as a sign of change but more specifically a sign of uncommon change. When he saw his white possum, he felt God was confirming to him that it’s time for change —to get out of the moonshine business and to do something else with his life. So, he “stepped out in faith” went all in, and he made that decision on the spot.”
Following in his grandfather’s ideology, Rawlin’s plan for his future encompassed more than providing food for customers.
“For me The White Possum has always been about inspiring long-overdue changes and new beginnings, especially uncommon ones.”