People are buzzing about Roots CafÃ©, a new bistro on West Gay Street that opened last July. On the surface, Roots is a cozy stop for breakfast and lunch, with everyday favorites, delicious daily specials, homemade soups, sauces, and sides. But something bigger is going on at Roots: they’re building a model for sustainability that may be the wave of the future for foodservice.
Recently, students from the WCU Food Lab visited Roots for a talk and cooking class with Head Chef and co-owner, Dan Cellucci. It was a tight fit, but the class of 20+ students listened intently as Cellucci described how Roots got started, their current practices, and plans for the future.
Roots CafÃ© essentially sprouted up out of nowhere. According to the owners, the whole process was very spontaneous.
“I was actually surfing Craig’s List late one night after work. I saw that Nick’s CafÃ© was up for sale and thought it wouldn’t hurt to inquire the next morning. That set in motion me taking over about a month later,” Cellicci explained. As the team started researching more options, all the pieces fell into place. “When I told my coworkers we were opening a cafÃ©, they thought we were crazy!” Roots CafÃ© co-owner, and Cellucci’s fiancÃ©e, Keyana explained.
The idea for Roots may have been spontaneous, but the daily routine is well-grounded. “Our philosophy is sustainability and supporting local farmers,” Cellucci explained. To that effect, Roots carefully selects its products. Everything from produce to meat, bread to honey – even the biodegradable to-go containers and cutlery are chosen with sustainability and organics in mind. “Its 24/7. Everyday, running to a different farm. But you build personal relationships with the farmers, and it gets easier,” Cellucci said.
Recently, Roots teamed up with West Chester’s own Thornbury Farms CSA program. Cellucci explained, “You buy shares, which allow the farmer to buy seeds, or to pay farm hands to help harvest. You’re rolling the dice a little bit, hoping for a good grow season, but it builds community and allows that farm to do better … by providing financial support.”
Organics are another cornerstone of the Roots CafÃ© philosophy. “[Organic farming] is good because you can farm the same land for a long, long time – not like some methods.”
Commercial farming uses so many chemicals – fertilizers and pesticides – to ensure a bountiful harvest that, after a while, the soil becomes toxic. Growing food from toxic soil is not only hazardous to our ecosystem, but also our health, and the health of future generations. Plus, “without pesticides, it just tastes better!” Cellucci added.
Roots is still evolving. “It’s a work in progress,” Cellucci explained. “Someday, [Roots] would like to use all local and organic products, but it’s tough.” During the spring and summer, Oak Shade Cheese, an Amish creamery in Lancaster, provides Roots with homemade cheeses through the West Chester Grower’s Market. But in the winter, it is too cold for the horse-and-buggy producers to travel.
Last winter, Roots had to supplement their cheese with commercial distributor US Foods. Still, with less than a year under its belt, Roots has made significant strides toward a working model for local, sustainable foodservice.
Cellucci left the students with a recipe for homemade mayonnaise. “It’s really simple – one egg yolk to one cup of oil.” First, Cellucci separated the egg yolk into a bowl and added some secret ingredient. Then, he slowly whisked in canola oil, adding air. The egg and oil began to emulsify, and the familiar mayo texture began to emerge. Cellucci also explained how you can spice up your mayo by infusing oils. “You can infuse oils with anything – herbs, peppers, spices.” For a spicy mayo, you can pour a cup of oil into a jar with a few chili peppers, and let it sit for a few days. The oil will take on the flavor of the chili peppers, and you can use that oil to make your mayonnaise.
We were encouraged to try making it at home.
Kellyn McNamara is a third-year nutrition and dietetics major, with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at KM654122@wcupa.edu.