As cliché as it might be, the symbolism of a lotus flower—pushing up and out to rise and blossom—comes to mind while sitting with Deborah Bouts, owner of the Sun Belly Café and certified yoga teacher. It was, after all, not Bouts, but her yoga students and friends who pushed her to open the café, after they’d enjoyed the soups she’d started selling at 90 Degrees Yoga. “I just said, ‘I don’t have the guts to do it.’ How much soup can I sell to justify a $15,000 renovation and all this stuff at the studio?” explains Bouts, sitting at a table inside the Belly’s cozy, bright surroundings.
But as any yogi might tell you, things have a way of coming into alignment. So Bouts, who is the epitome of a yoga teacher with her warm smile, flowing blonde hair, and calm and nurturing presence, soon found support coming at her from myriad angles. One person had a glass front refrigerator destined for Goodwill—unless Bouts wanted it. Another, with connections in the restaurant business, had procured the soup to nuts version of any and all restaurant equipment, and what would Bouts like from it? “So, I thought, I have to do it,” Bouts smiles, “I mean how many times can the universe go, ‘Hey, do this.’”
For five years, Bouts would teach the early 6 a.m. yoga class, take her two children to school, cook all day in the DHEC-approved 10-by-15-foot kitchen in the studio, and then teach the evening class. In 2015, she and her husband, Trent, found an old beauty parlor, which they bought and renovated just 400 steps from the Swamp Rabbit Trail on West Blue Ridge Drive, opening the Belly there in 2016.
Bouts’s inspiration for what she’s doing is her family. Her daughter, Zoe, is 15 and has type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, while her 11-year-old son, Broderick, is “on the verge of type 1.” The café serves (delicious) gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan food—with the option of adding turkey meatballs, wild salmon, or chicken.
Bouts has a rainbow offering of ten different soups daily, including what Trent describes as “decadent” Portobello mushroom, as well as cauliflower lima bean, goji berry, and a healing Ayurvedic stew with lentils and warming spices, like turmeric and ginger. Bouts wants people to connect—not only with each other, but with food. She makes it easy by hosting cooking classes (for children and adults) and free events like salad-in-a-jar parties. She also offers catering and meal planning, where a customizable menu is prepared and can be picked up (at 90 Degrees or the Belly) or delivered.
As committed as she is to helping students feel better with yoga, she takes that same practice off her mat. “We’re not connected to the food cycle anymore,” says Bouts. “We don’t have grandmothers teaching us how to garden and then how to cook from it. If we can bring it back by nurturing people with real food by putting feeling into it, hopefully that comes through.” Just like the lotus bud pushing forth to reach the sun.