Born and raised in rural Germany, Mittelstaedt first made her mark on the Nashville dining scene as co-owner and head chef of Peaceful Planet, a buffet-style vegetarian restaurant that opened in 1997. Shortly after Peaceful Planet closed in 1999, she helped Jeff Poppen, aka The Barefoot Farmer, launch one of Nashville's first CSAs, Long Hungry Creek Farm. In fact, according to a January story by Susannah Felts on the food blog Freshfully, Mittelstaedt's carport served as the first pickup center for the CSA's produce.
Mittelstaedt and business partner Laura Yazdian opened Sunflower Cafe in October 2012. Nashville Scene food critic Carrington Fox wrote a review of the restaurant that ran the week after Thanksgiving and used the holiday feast as a reference point.
“Just as a turkey-centric holiday spread had us convinced that vegetables exist only in the predictable range between marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and lard-licked green beans,” Fox wrote, “we happened upon Sunflower Cafe's dazzling array of soups, salads, entrées and desserts that leverage fruits, vegetables and grains into a menu remarkable for its bounty of farm-fresh flavor and creativity.”
“She was definitely a vegetarian pioneer,” Yazdian says of Mittelstaedt. “She was into health food and vegetarian eating 15 years ago when she opened Peaceful Planet, and teaching people about it. That was back when people around here thought it was strange.”
Yazdian adds that Mittelstaedt was a much-loved member of Nashville's restaurant community who did a lot of volunteer work. “She was very involved in Gilda's club, and would volunteer to teach cooking classes at University School of Nashville,” Yazdian says.
Sunflower Cafe is at 2834 Azalea Place in Berry Hill. Yazdian says the business will continue to operate.
Update (3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25): Jeff Poppen called Bites to share some thoughts about Mittelstaedt. “She was instrumental in getting my CSA organized,” Poppen says. “She brought skills I didn’t have, and made a wonderful, fun, community-oriented place to get your vegetables. She was so helpful. She never thought about herself, just wanted the whole local food movement to progress forward. She’ll be sadly missed.”