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Cult of Karyn: Stars flock to her vegan food

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Updated: April 10, 2014 6:28AM

Beyonce, apparently, gets hungry.

The world’s biggest star recently scooted up to the North Side and grabbed a raw lunch from a restaurant on Halsted that just so happens to be owned by the hippest, healthiest, sveltest, youngest-looking 66-year-old vegan you ever did see.

Queen Bey’s not the only one. Atlanta-based hip-hop impresario Jermaine Dupri makes Karyn’s Raw a regular stop. So do John Salley, Angela Bassett and John Cusack. And Lady Gaga. In fact, hanging out at Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s Cooked — or any of Karyn Calabrese’s eponymous restaurants — is a great way to improve your health, eat well and stargaze.

“I told Beyonce about Karyn,” says Dupri, who was in Chicago a month ago and, as such, ordered vegan buffalo wings to go from Karyn’s Cooked, 738 N. Wells. “Yeah, Beyonce told me she went there. It’s just one of those spots where you definitely have to talk about it. Once you get on that vegan page, it’s definitely one of those places to stop by.”

Calabrese didn’t intend on making her restaurants the best place for scenesters to hang. (In fact, she doesn’t much advertise those connections.) But sitting in at Calabrese’s Halsted eatery is much like being at a high-end barbershop with community appeal — albeit with an attached organic grocery store where kale chip samples (Calabrese’s take on potato chips) are abundant.

“I’m not one of your typical vegans from years ago,” says the former model, who turns heads Tina Turner-style when she rocks skin-tight leggings. “Before [now] it was primarily a Birkenstock-hippie culture. I think that one of the aspects that I bring to the game is I’m not typical. A wider range of people [are trying it.] Plus, you eat like a vegan and you won’t age at the rate everybody else is.”

Perhaps. But Calabrese’s agelessness also might be influenced by the hyperbaric chamber at Karyn’s Inner Beauty Center (attached to Karyn’s Fresh Corner, 1901 N. Halsted) that offers spa treatments and trampoline classes. If that all seems new, that’s because it is. That particular location burned down in October 2012 and reopened last fall, complete with a bamboo floor upgrade. The fire depleted her savings account, but she was determined to rebuild.

She doesn’t dwell on the fire. Shrugs. On to the next. She’s familiar with springing back from tragedy. Her son died young, leaving two children behind. And her husband, Jerry Scherer, recently was mugged and shot while walking his dog on the Gold Coast, near the Pritzker family home and Cardinal Francis George’s residence.

Scherer, 70, could have lost a limb to the ordeal, but he’s pulling through, in part due to the hyperbaric chamber, his wife says. “I’ve been oxygenating him,” Calabrese says with a chuckle. “Thank God they only shot his foot.”

Meanwhile, she’s got her hands full overseeing her new deal with Whole Foods. She’s increasing production for her vegan ice cream. And no, Los Angeles, with its uberhealthy lifestyle, still can’t woo Karyn’s Raw. Though it tried.

“I’m a Midwesterner, and I love Chicago with all my heart and soul,” says Calabrese. “And hey, Lady Gaga was just here the other night. The city has been so supportive of me for the past 30-something years, why would I take my business anyplace else?”


Twitter: @adriennewrites

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