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Mon Net Café goes organic in Monessen

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ernie Telegraphis, owner of the Mon Net Cafe in Monessen, prepares rice pilaf and roast with vegatables for a customer Monday, Dec. 23, 2013.

If a market exists for organic meals in the Mid-Mon Valley, Ernie Telegraphis has vowed to corner it.

Telegraphis has been operating the Mon Net Café in the Eastgate section of Monessen for the past 14 months. The eatery offers Wi-Fi connection for laptop users, three computers, a jukebox and an all-organic menu.

“When people get really hungry, they want to go get that greasy stuff because they're conditioned to do so,” Telegraphis said. “I'm incrementally building this. It's a struggle because most people think food is food, and it isn't. I need this place to be a launching pad.”

A lifelong Monessen resident, Telegraphis, 62, got the idea for his business after working at a Greek restaurant and a pizza shop. Now he calls the Mon Net Café his own. The business is as unconventional as its owner — and Telegraphis wouldn't have it any other way.

Although Monessen and its surrounding communities are hardly a hub for food that is certified organic and non-GMO (genetically engineered), Telegraphis insists the premise can, and will, expand.

“You have 400 places within a 10-mile radius where you can eat the same crap: hamburgers, french fries and either Coke or Pepsi,” he said. “I'm attracting those people that are conscious that there are differences in quality of food.”

The menu at Mon Net Café consists of daily lunch platters, salads, side dishes and organic treats such as ice cream, pie and his specialty — fresh organic popcorn. Dinners, sandwiches and personal pizzas are also available.

Telegraphis takes pride in preparing the meals by hand. He refuses to use a microwave, preferring a modest kitchen with ovens, a broiler and a crock pot.

“I tell people it's going to take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes before we come out with your food,” he said. “People are always in a hurry. You see them go to a place and they want to stuff their face and leave. It's not fast food here. This place is a leisurely eatery with a slow pace.”

Telegraphis also offers organic-only drinks: cola, ginger ale and root beer. High fructose corn syrup is not allowed in the Mon Net Café.

“I get all my soda from Colorado. There's no phosphoric acid or caramel coloring ... all those things can lead to degenerative diseases,” Telegraphis said. “People have told me told me ‘Oh you advertise that everything's organic — that's just a ploy,' and I show everybody the labels. The extra virgin olive oil I use is organic; the pizza sauce that comes from Italy is organic; even the half-and-half creamers are organic.”

He also insists on using bottled spring water for cooking.

“The only thing I use city water for is to do the dishes,” he said.

The Mon Net Café offers delivery, and its hours run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Telegraphis said he has decided not to run breakfast hours despite several requests.

Customers can order food, sit down and access the internet. Telegraphis is also preparing for people who want to sit and work on their tax returns. The computers are free for patrons to use.

“I see a lot of people come down to the library, but they couldn't get everything addressed there,” Telegraphis said. “I want this to be a place to come if you need to do something on the computer or sit down and get your thoughts together.

“At the same time, we want you to nourish yourself by eating properly. If you're eating just to fill your gut, you're doing your whole body a disservice and you're going to pay for it down the road.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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