Common Roots Cafe

10 10 2008

by Amber Gehrke & Lauryl Loberg with edits by Megan Hines, Emily Larson and Sarah Milnar

Grilled Cheese at Common Roots - by Amber GehrkeIt’s hard to imagine where every piece of food on your dinner plate comes from, especially if it’s a grilled cheese sandwich with tortilla chips, a pint of beer and a piece of cake. The origins of that meal probably start in a cornfield in the Midwest, but typically the rest of the ingredients remain unknown. Consciousness about food miles, the distance your food travels to get to your table, is a trend that has been gradually sweeping across the nation over the past several years, and many willingly pay the extra few bucks to eat healthily and locally.

That’s why Common Roots Café opened up in July of 2007 on Lyndale Avenue South and West 26th Street in Minneapolis and has been thriving ever since. Common Roots Café is proud to provide the knowledge to their customers about the origins of their breakfast, lunch or dinner. The Lyn-Lake and Uptown areas are great places to live and experience the Bohemian lifestyle of Minneapolis, and the café is one of the best places to start. Bikers, college students, business executives and health-conscious parents alike make the trip to enjoy a plate at Common Roots Café. The community and atmosphere of Common Roots Café is the perfect combination of small town coffee shop and popular restaurant for the residents of Minneapolis.

Every month or so, the menu changes and new artwork appears on the walls. Depending on the time of year, you could sit down with a grass-fed beef burger or an Italian chicken meatloaf and view photographs of a local artist’s trip to Sudan. Or you could sit down with some Canadian walleye and look at abstract paintings from students at the Art Institute of Minnesota. Whatever the situation may be, you’re always in for a treat, especially if you enjoy knowing where your food came from.

Many visitors come to Common Roots Café after reading reviews or researching organic food online. Social events and learning experiences are often held at Common Roots Café as well. The “Common Room”, located in the back of the café, is in high demand on weekday evenings. Danny Schwartzman, the owner of Common Roots Café, estimates there are at least 50 bookings for the back room every month.

“People don’t always want to come to the café to learn about the food and eat it,” said Danny. “Some just want an exciting and welcoming new place to have an office meeting or to get together for lunch discussion. That’s one thing I appreciate about what the community Common Roots Café has created.”

Danny is inspired to reach out because of the customers and the sense of community that has developed with Common Roots Café. He has visited several of the places that the ingredients and products come from, and every time he leaves with more motivation to continue spreading the word. Local producers, such as Whole Grain Milling, Ames Farm Limited and Hope Creamery, contribute food and enthusiasm to Common Roots Café and are integral to the café’s mission and success.

Ordering at Common Roots - by Amber GehrkeThe Common Roots Café updates its Web site weekly with new menu items, featured farmers and facts about the restaurant. In May of 2009, the Web site displayed a pie chart to illustrate the percentage of local food served at the café. More than 50 percent of the food served by Common Roots Café in May was local. Of the remaining food, 26 percent was organic, 10 percent was fair trade. Two percent represented sustainable seafood, ranking “good” or “best” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for sustainable seafood. In May, almost 90 percent of the food was local, organic or fair trade and served from scratch. The goal for the next few months is to increase to 95 percent.

Local food grown, raised or processed for Common Roots Café comes from within a 250-mile radius. “For Common Roots Café, ‘local’ is not just a buzzword,” said Danny. “It means that we are doing business by keeping dollars in our communities, lessening environmental impact and making food that tastes great.” Dairy products and flour used for foods is almost entirely local, and a large portion of local produce is certified organic. Nearly all of the fair-trade products Common Roots Café receives are certified organic as well, and whatever is not grown within 250 miles is organic.

The Beverage Selection - by Amber GehrkeThink about it – your grilled cheese sandwich with tortilla chips, the pint of beer and piece of cake consumed at Common Roots all probably traveled fresh in a truck, not frozen in the back of a semi. The bread in your sandwich most likely came from one of two mills in Minnesota where Common Roots Café receives grain, and the dairy product on the sandwich probably made its way over from Brunkow Cheese in southwestern Wisconsin. The pint of beer could have made the trip from a variety of places in Minnesota or Wisconsin. That delicious piece of cake, with warm honey from Ames Farm Limited trickling down from the moist top, was baked with eggs from a Minnesota or Iowa poultry farm, flour from Whole Grain Milling and dairy items from Faribault Dairy. The Herb Man, indeed rightfully named, provided the miscellaneous spices and ingredients from Farmington to tie the whole meal together. The entire meal with every little element put into it, in all probability, traveled around 700 miles to get to your fingertips in the Common Roots Café, and about 90 percent of it can be traced back to its origin. It’s no wonder why the trend of knowing where your meal comes from is spreading so quickly – it’s fun, tasty and healthy for you!

Business is booming at the restaurant, and there is never a time when the place isn’t busy – except maybe around closing time. Breakfast is always bustling with the regulars grabbing a cup of coffee and one of Minnesota Monthly’s professed “Best Bagels of the Cities 2007.” Customers stick around to sip their beverage and read the latest edition of The Onion or finish rubbing out the final details on a proposal before heading off to work. As lunch approaches, people come and go with no real commitments or appointments to rush to, but when noon hits, the café is full of life and activity. “It can take awhile for my food to come around the lunch rush,” said graphic designer Emily Hartmann, a regular at the café. “I will wait the few extra minutes for my food to arrive, because I know it will be tasty and everyone will be trying their best to serve me well.”

Afternoons are more easy-going once happy hour hits at 3 o’clock. Among the sea of laptops in the café, mugs of beer start popping up from table to table. Families begin coming in around 6 o’clock to eat supper with loved ones, and right behind them follow younger Lounging in the Cafe - by Amber Gehrkeadults and the high school crowd. As the night draws on, the laptops and textbooks disappear from tables and more coffee cups and after-supper treats take their place. Sometimes, people who arrived at Common Roots Café in the early afternoon stay until closing time. Emily has admitted doing that on several occasions. “Somehow, my designs seem to flourish here,” she said. “I can spend an entire week in my office trying to get the same amount of work I can get done at Common Roots Café in one day. I believe it’s a combination of the artwork on the walls, the enjoyable personalities of the employees and the food I pick at for hours on end.” She tries to visit the café at least once a week to eat an all-organic meal with high hopes of getting some work done.

Even working at Common Roots Café offers its own rewards. Employees at the restaurant are paid a living wage of at least $11.40 per hour. Health insurance and additional benefits are offered to workers who clock in 20 hours a week or more. The best value comes in working with the community and providing healthy food to feed a population starving for more information about what they’re truly putting inside of their mouths. Paying the extra few dollars is a worthwhile choice to make when coming to Common Roots Café. Not only can the employees tell you where your food came from, they offer quality company, useful assistance and make a fair living wage. The restaurant is clean, safe and always alive with something new and exciting. Oh right, and the food is good too.

To view more photos, see the Common Roots slideshow.

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