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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Common Roots Café: Committed to Community

Sep 27, 2012 10:03PM ● By Beth Davis

Common Roots Cafe

At Common Roots Café, nestled in the heart of Uptown Minneapolis, the food is made from scratch—using high-quality, local, organic and fair-trade ingredients—and the focus is on community. That means keeping dollars in the community by sourcing from local farmers, providing a gathering place for the neighborhood and providing delectable and sustainable fare that is accessible to all.

The brainchild of owner Danny Schwartzman, a former community organizer, Common Roots Café opened its doors in 2007. Its mission was simply to expose people to the idea that the source of their food matters, not only to the environment and the local economy, but also to their palate. “I want customers to come here not only because the food is local and organic, but also because it’s delicious,” says Schwartzman. “I want them to experience the uncompromising, incomparable flavor synonymous with fresh, local ingredients.”

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Common Roots has a menu that changes monthly to reflect the best of the season’s offerings from local producers, and even from the café’s own garden behind the restaurant. Here, Schwartzman does much of the gardening, planting and harvesting “a little of everything,” including herbs, tomatoes, peppers, greens, squash, carrots, grapes, plums, pears, apricots and apples.

The restaurant’s commitment to using local ingredients runs deep, and it’s got the numbers to show for it. All of the café’s purchases are tracked to show customers and the community where the food comes from, with monthly stats updated on its website. The 2011 “year in numbers” report states that 87 percent of all ingredients used that year were local, organic or fair trade. In addition, ingredients were sourced from 51 Minnesota producers in 22 counties.

Schwartzman says it’s important for him to share the numbers with the community. “Anyone can say they are local and organic, but we wanted to be open and accountable and give people something to talk about,” he explains. “We want people to see our impact and set an example.”

Though Common Roots is known for its fabulous food, it is also known for its commitment to composting, recycling and other green efforts. Since opening, the restaurant has composted all of its food and container waste, and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been diverted from landfills and turned into nutrient rich soil. Common Roots works with Eureka Recycling, a local nonprofit, which sends the compost to a commercial facility where almost everything can be composted, including food scraps, non-recyclable paper products, “to-go” containers and utensils.

“We recycle all the items we can, but we operate in a way that reduces use of bottles and cans by serving tap water and draft beer and using fresh and from-scratch ingredients instead of packaged goods,” notes Schwartzman.

The space is an environmentally friendly design, incorporating salvaged materials for the floor in the front seating area, the tabletops and walls. Even the lighting in the front of the café was salvaged from the old University of Minnesota greenhouse, and the lights over the counter came from a north Minneapolis warehouse. The planters on the patio are large lockers from a local hospital turned on their side and reconfigured to hold plants. Other areas of the restaurant use eco-friendly materials such as panels made from sunflower hulls and carpet tiles that are recycled and recyclable and made domestically in a low-emission plant.

In addition to providing an informal meeting place for lunch or coffee, Common Roots offers a private meeting room that accommodates up to 25 people. Use of the space is free of charge for nonprofits and community groups, and is available to other groups for a fee. “Community is why we are here, so it’s our way of giving back and serving a need,” says Schwartzman.

Common Roots is also a full-service caterer with a planning staff to assist customers with their event from beginning to end. The same commitment to fresh, local ingredients and environmentally friendly practices carries over to the catering business. Food is served with reusable or compostable serviceware and full composting services are provided.

Schwartzman says the patrons give him energy and inspiration. “We have great, happy customers that simply enjoy coming here, and we love having them,” he says.

Common Roots Café is located at 2558 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. For more information, call 612-871-2360 or visit CommonRootsCafe.com.

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