The restaurant industry is one of the most competitive markets out there. Several elements are needed in order for a restaurant to be successful: an enticing menu, outstanding customer service and a welcoming dining atmosphere. Since its inception in July of 2012 as a 19 seat cafe, the Root Cellar Organic Café has certainly offered all of this and more, but recently they unveiled a stunning expansion of their space that has made the dining atmosphere that much more welcoming and in a word: incredible.
Recycled, upcycled and innovatively designed are apt descriptors of the elements you will see when you walk into the new space at 623 Dundas Street East. Everywhere you look you will notice something old that has become new again. From bike frames welded to a counter at the front window to bicycle rims acting as a hanging cup rack. From rebar that has been welded into gorgeous and unique light fixtures on the ceiling, to sheet metal that has been bent and fused into a stunning line of flowers, or a handrail that now holds menu boards. The décor is intriguing and beautiful to say the least.
Many of the upcycled items were uncovered in the renovation process while others, such as the handrail that now holds the menus and an old yellow counter section, have been recycled from buildings at the Western Fairgrounds that were recently demolished. This space is a feast for your eyes and soul, and it’s easy to feel quite satisfied before you even set eyes on the menu which has an offering for every appetite and every diet. From vegan entrees to water buffalo burgers, local and organic are the two most important words to keep in mind as you peruse the delectable bill of fare.
With a focus on “from-scratch” seasonal menus, in house artisan baked goods made from local and organic grains, supporting small local farmers is important to the Root Cellar. The concept for the restaurant grew out of a desire to create a relationship between local organic producers and food consumers. To this effect, they began to source local and organically produced items in an attempt to create as small a food chain as possible. All items on their menu are organic (with very few exceptions), and 80% of the food they use on their menu is local. To achieve this they frequent farmers who use season extension techniques such as hoop houses, allowing certain vegetables to be grown during the winter months.
But the food, décor and incredibly welcoming staff aren’t the only enticements for customers at the Root Cellar. Their walls house a six week rotating art display featuring local London artists. The current display is a collage of local miscellany featuring 30 different artists. The Root Cellar doesn’t collect a commission on anything sold putting all the profits into the pockets of the artists. I was told a story about one of the artists whose actions reflect the values of the Root Cellar, and I would say of the Old East Village as well. Upon selling one of his pieces of art and knowing they weren’t taking a commission, the artist asked who he could make a donation to on behalf of the restaurant. They chose the Unity Project located just up the road from the Root Cellar.
Community focused. Local. Sustainable. Responsible. These are words I would easily use to describe the Root Cellar, and the neighbourhood in which it opens its doors to every day: The Old East Village. They are such a good fit for each other that at times I find it hard to believe the Root Cellar only opened its doors two years ago. It has become such a staple of the OEV that it feels like it has been part of the streetscape forever. And if the renovations and future plans for the restaurant are any indication, they don’t plan on leaving any time soon either. With an extended menu that now includes dinner and longer hours from Thursday to Saturday, a new chef, Dani Murphy, who is described as “amazing” by General Manager Ellie Cook, the Root Cellar has said “We are here to stay!”
And if that wasn’t enough, there are even more exciting developments in the works for the Root Cellar Organic Café. Soon their old, tiny kitchen will become London’s first co-operatively owned nanobrewery: a very small brewery operation that is defined by a brew system less than 4 US beer barrels. It will be the first worker owned brewery of its kind in Canada and will offer the beer on tap in the Root Cellar, and perhaps in a growler size that you will be able to take home later in the game.
Oh, and about that sign! Whenever I mention the amazing Root Cellar to friends and neighbours they comment on the sign that hangs above the old entry. “When are they going to get a new sign??” everyone questions, so I asked Ellie – who was the sign’s creator, in case you didn’t know.
“SOON!” she assures me, though she says it with slight hesitation. As the sign is being done by the same folks at Reclaimed Innovations who did the new space makeover, it might take them a little time to recover from the hard work they put into the Root Cellar space before the sign is completed. For now, look for the modest yellow hand painted sign that still adorns the front of the building. You can’t miss it and I promise you, the food will still taste just as good.
Drop in to see the folks at the Root Cellar today, and tell your friends about it tomorrow. This is truly a business to get behind in London, Ontario. With breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, and a mandate for local, sustainable and responsible partnerships, you can’t go wrong with the Root Cellar Organic Café.