Latin American Food, on the Healthy Side

Rice Bowl

A rice bowl with shredded chicken stew, avocado and maduros (sweet plantain)

Restaurant survives tough start during pandemic

In many ways, it’s surprising that The Green Bowl Cafe is still in business, considering what its owner has been up against since its November 2019 opening. 

Using her life savings, and with no background in restaurant management, Yamalit “Yami” Holguin decided to give it a go, envisioning no greater initial hiccups than the onset of winter.

Holguin and her family live near Dutchess Stadium and noticed an empty storefront — formerly a deli — on Route 9D in Stadium Plaza.

Yamalit Holguin

Yamalit Holguin, owner of The Green Bowl (Photo by A. Rooney)

“Inspiration struck,” she recalls. “I was a human resources director, had never even worked in a restaurant, but the idea kept at me. After we opened, we had a rough first few months, and I went home often thinking, ‘What have I done?’ We were waiting on spring, but as soon as it started to get nice out, COVID hit and we closed for a bit. But we’ve survived.”

The key, Holguin says, was the ability to promote the restaurant on social media. Her parents also help out with the cooking.

The Green Bowl blends an array of options, such as wraps, salads and smoothies, with dishes from Latin America, particularly Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, reflecting Holguin’s dual heritage. What makes the restaurant unusual is where the two meet — healthy Latin American cuisine.

“Our first thought was natural juices and acai bowls,” Holguin says, “and from there, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do empanadas, fried but healthy?’ We added a rice bowl. We’ll try new trends to see if our customers want something.”

She was inspired to experiment with healthier food after her 11-year-old sister, Yumelit, died of brain cancer. “Nutrition can help us fight illnesses and so I forced my family to switch our eating habits by cooking our cultural foods with organic options, making homemade sazon, sofrito and everything else we could source organically,” she explains on the restaurant’s website. “Hispanic food doesn’t need to be unhealthy and full of fat.” 

The Green Door’s extensive menu includes fresh juices, organic Cuban coffee, breakfast bowls, paninis and Dominican and Venezuelan specialties like plantains and arepas served in any number of combinations, along with Venezuelan empanadas, which are gluten-free. A “patacon-plantain sandwich” uses two plantains as the “bread” and is filled with a choice of shredded meat and/or vegan black beans, and salad. There are yuca fries to munch on, too.

The bestsellers, according to Holguin, are acai bowls, rice bowls and empanadas. In the we-wish-more-people-would-try-this category is the chimi sandwich, with fried steak cabbage, tomato and onions. “It’s very good,” she says.

Holguin describes Dominican cuisine as “more Caribbean, similar to Puerto Rican and Jamaican food, heavier and fried,” while Venezuela’s is “all about the arepas,” which are a staple. “A lot of people have no idea what an arepa is but see a picture and think, ‘This looks great’ and then they love it.

“A lot of people find us because of the Dominican food and others are surprised — ‘This is what you’ve had the whole time?’ ” 

What they haven’t seen a lot of yet is fans attending Hudson Valley Renegades night games at the stadium across the street. “We’re looking forward to the day games,” Holguin says.

The Green Bowl, located at 1485 Route 9D in Wappingers Falls, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. See thegreenbowlny.com to order online.

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