When I go to a restaurant, I go for the food and the dining experience. A great dining experience like friendly staff and great service can make up for so-so food. Likewise, outstanding eats can make up for poor service or other oversights. 5 star restaurants get both these things right. Gaia Cafe, I'm sorry to say, needs to improve in both categories.
Most importantly, this place simply needs to be friendlier. It is a real downer going in here. It does not seem like a fun place to work since the entire staff seems beaten down and angry. This energy is what is reflected back toward your diners. Please note that this review is based on my first impressions having gone to Gaia once while visiting Grand Rapids. However, judging from reviews on this and other websites, I am not alone in noticing the unfriendly attitude. The fact that reviewers have been commenting on it for years suggests to me that the problem comes from management and/or the owners. For example, when we first walked in the door there was no one to greet us. We saw a small little sign off to the side that said "Please wait to be seated" and saw one woman standing there waiting so we stood there too. We waited 10 minutes. For a while there was no one at all to be found. Then a couple waitresses came by, avoiding eye contact, ringing up things at the register or grabing plates from the kitchen then scurrying off. No one was there to say "Welcome" or "I'll be right with you". It was a horrible first impression. Finally, I asked the woman in front of us if she'd been waiting long. She said she got her just before us and put her name on the list. List? There's a list? So I ask at the counter and got our name on the list. You can see that this a not a good start to a dining experience.
Our server was a wonderful person. She had that beaten down look when she as up front and as she walked around, but when she came to our table and the entire time she waited on us, she was friendly and helpful. I told her I was vegan and asked if they had vegan pancakes or vegan french toast. She said, "No, I'm sorry, I wish we did". I appreciated the sentiment.
As for the food, the items they make are outstanding. The problem is with the menu. There are precious few vegan items and those that are vegan are not marked as such. They need to treat vegans with respect. I can understand that a meat-eating restaurant would not treat vegetarians or vegans with respect. It's not acceptable but I get it. But for a VEGETARIAN restaurant? You absolutely expect better. For crying out loud, we're both on the same team here. I'm not saying they have to be all vegan or even mostly vegan. All I am saying is that at a minimum, they should have the vegan menu items clearly marked as such on the menu or put a green leaf next to the items that can be made vegan on request. Honestly, it's like the owners had a terrible experience with a vegan once and it's left them scarred for life. I don't get it.