Sit Down with Lori Nelsen: The Origins of Oak Hill Cafe and Farm

It is an important part of development as women to look around to women who can serve as role models and inspirations. Women like Ms. Lori Nelsen, former Furman chemistry professor and head of environmental science labs, can teach current Furman women lessons about dedication and following your dreams. After learning about Ms. Neslen, I decided to sit down with her to learn more about what it takes to be a successful woman. 

Ms. Nelsen graduated from Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois with a degree in chemistry. Then she went on to earn her Master’s in Public Healthin Environmental Health Sciences/Toxicology from the University of California, Berkeley. After this she proceeded to work in a variety of different laboratories doing everything from breast cancer research, to toxicology, to analyzing street drugs. From here, she went on to work at our very own Furman University as a chemistry professor for over 6 years. She then transitioned to a Laboratory Management position in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department for the next 12 years. 

After all her years at Furman, a time came when her job was no longer secure, and it became necessary to start considering alternate job opportunities. She has always been interested in food; she told me that her favorite class in graduate school was food toxicology. Her interest in food made her consider a sustainable restaurant as a new career path. 

When some possible venues fell through, Ms. Nelsen persevered and decided looking for land where she could start her own farm to table restaurant. She found an old house on 2.5 acres of land that she called an “oasis” off of Poinsett Highway.

Her goals with this property were to promote the slow foods movement by providing a hyper local and sustainable food experience. She partnered with Chef David Porras who she felt had a similar vision for this endeavor. So, in 2017, she brought him on as her business partner and co-owner. (Seen bellow: Chef David Porras and chemist Lori Nelsen, pictured at Oak Hill Farm.)

(Photo Courtesy of Oak Hill Cafe and Farm)

Entrepreneurship is difficult, especially in the food industry. When asked about her challenges so far, the list that Ms. Nelsen gave was extensive. There have been issues with finances, construction, and developing relationships with farmers to name a few. None of this has deterred Ms. Nelsen and her team who continue to work hard to meet their early May opening. 

Their farm to table restaurant is called Oak Hill Cafe and Farm. It is co-owned and operated by Ms. Lori Nelsen and Chef David Porras. Their goal to have a successful farm to table operation where they have a zero-waste kitchen. This means using all parts of their sustainably raised vegetables and animals that are served in the restaurant. In the words of Ms. Nelsen, “We try to make it so that the animals only have one bad day”. They want Oak Hill to be a place of education on how to live within the Earth’s boundaries and to thrive there. 

Ms. Nelsen’s final comments to me were about what it takes to follow your dreams. “If you have a dream follow your dream and no matter how many challenges you just have to persevere”. She talked about all of the road blocks that she encountered along the way, but that they have made her stronger. Fail or succeed, all you can ask from a dream is to teach you and make you stronger. Ms. Nelsen is a great example of this, she is learning and growing as she pursues her dream. 

Ms. Nelsen and her team are hoping to have Oak Hill Cafe and Farm open by the beginning of May! They will be open for breakfast and lunch throughout the week, and dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They will also have a coffee bar and aspire to have the best coffee in the area! 

I encourage everyone to go and give Oak Hill a try to see what the slow foods movement is all about and to support an inspiring Furman girl boss who is following her dreams! 

Visit their website www.oakhillcafe.comto learn more!