Plant pros

Sarah Nasca, co-owner of Ashker’s, at left, Sally Gower, founder of Eat Well Buffalo, Susan Morreale and her daugher, Ciara Morreale, owners of Her Story and Her Sanctuary in Buffalo, stand inside the soon to be completed Ashkers store on Third Street in Niagara Falls. The ladies are planning classes for those who want to learn more about plant-based eating. The Niagara Falls’ Ashker’s will offer a completely plant-based menu.

The initial enthusiastic response to Burger King’s Impossible Whopper seems a clear indication that people are interested in plant-based foods, especially if they don’t have to give up flavor, texture and satisfaction. 

The fast food giant reportedly saw an immediate 18 percent uptick in foot traffic. 

Increasingly it seems more people are interested in considering a vegan or plant-based diet, whether to benefit the planet, improve their overall health or to ease their conscience about eating animals.

Now, four area women have joined together to help those who want to know more about going plant-based, with a series of monthly classes designed to share recipes and research about the benefits of reducing or eliminating meats from their diets. 

One of the ladies is Youngstown-raised Sarah Nasca, a partner in the Ashker’s restaurants chain in the region, three of which are plant-based and a fifth which will be plant-based that is opening soon on Third Street in Niagara Falls. Prior to the opening of the restaurant will be the opening of a mini-cafe offering juices, smoothies, coffees and plant-based meals to go while an adjacent wellness studio will be where classes of all sorts will be held. The mini-cafe is opening up in March and the full Ashker’s restaurant is opening next door by the end of the summer.

Ashker’s restaurants will provide the locations for the plant-based classes, starting with the Ashker’s in Riverside on March 3, with plans to eventually hold some classes in the Niagara Falls Ashker’s Wellness Studio.

Sponsoring the classes and assisting in them are Susan Morreale, a former nurse at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and self described “wellness warrior,” and her daughter and business partner, Ciara Morreale. The Morreales own two Buffalo businesses, Her Story, featuring products made by women including a Her Story jewelry line; and the adjacent Her Sanctuary, a co-working gathering spot for women on Hertel Avenue created in honor of Susan’s sister, Cindy Morreale, who died of breast cancer.  The four ladies met in the Her Sanctuary space and their shared interest in plant-based wellness evolved into the new classes. 

The classes will be taught by Sally Gower, founder of Eat Well Buffalo and a former holistic health magazine publisher, who like her three colleagues believes in the healing power of food and stress reduction. “People are so quick to take a drug rather than make lifestyle changes,” Gower said. “And we know that lifestyle makes up 50 to 60 percent of your health, more so than your physical health or your genetics.”

Over the past decade Gower received several certifications in nutrition education, including one from Cornell University and is a proponent of diets with  more plant-based foods and less meat and less sugar. Her classes include cooking, eating, drinking of healthy “mocktails” and learning about wellness. “People love it,” she said of the classes. “They love the hands on piece.”  

All four ladies walk the talk of healthy living, including Morreale, a breast cancer survivor or as she says “thriver.”

“It’s a lifestyle I’ve embraced and I’ve been wanting to share for a while,” Morreale explained, noting her conviction that her lifestyle choices, mentally, physically and spiritually, have helped beat cancer. 

The next cooking class presented by the four ladies will be called “Her Kitchen,” and is a six-month cooking class and wellness series that begins March 3.  For more information, visit


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