The Root Cellar, an organic café, bakery and juice bar in Old East Village, celebrated its first birthday in July. Located in a former wine retail store, the 21-seat restaurant is small but charming with brick archways along one wall, colourful menu boards, and artwork by a different featured artist each month, typically with a social justice theme or using sustainable materials and techniques.
The restaurant is an offshoot of On the Move Organics, a London company that connects people to local certified organic food producers through its home delivery service, its operations at Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, and the Dundas Street café. The whole organization is in the process of converting to a worker-owned cooperative, with the four principles — Jeff Pastorius (who founded On the Move Organics), Ellie Cook, Aaron Lawrence and Joel Pastorius — all taking equal responsibility for the full business. It is Ellie you’re most likely to see in The Root Cellar, though, as she manages the café’s front of house operations.
In the fall the eatery will take over neighbouring space at 621 Dundas Street. The dining area will expand from 700 to 1,500 square feet, more than doubling its capacity to 55 seats. In warm weather diners can also enjoy the sidewalk patio.
Currently the café caters primarily to brunch and lunch crowds. It is a popular destination for people who live and work in the neighbourhood, and on Saturdays people will often pop in on their way to or from the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. With the expansion, the café is looking to build a dinner crowd and will offer healthy versions of traditional pub fare, from appetizers to shepherd’s pie. “We believe it will appeal to people who are looking for local organic options when they dine out,” says Ellie, who expects to run extended hours once the new space is open.
The menu will continue to be built on certified organic foods, locally sourced in season. Right now there are soup, sandwich and salad selections that you can always count on, like the vegan sweet potato curry soup, roasted beet and goat cheese panini, loaded grilled cheese flavoured with greens and caramelized onions, kale slaw or the spicy chickpea salad, as well as a selection of desserts. All baking is done in house, and customers can order fresh breads and buns to take home — ancient grain, multigrain, cheddar spelt, cinnamon raisin, and others.
Specials posted on the chalkboard and on Facebook change daily, depending on what is available in season — perhaps a roasted asparagus or roasted zucchini panini, a heritage sausage melt, or a dish or dessert that incorporates unplanned for ingredients. “We were surprised with a crop of organic mini-raspberries, and had raspberry mint scones on the menu for a while,” says Jeff.
Another Root Cellar staple is the organic fresh juice and smoothie bar where staff whip up healthy concoctions made from vegetables, fruit and wheatgrass mixed with almond, coconut or cashew milk. “We make our own cashew milk from fair trade organic cashews imported from El Salvador,” Ellie explains.
The majority of ingredients are sourced closer to home, though. “We go to great lengths to support local small scale farmers,” say Jeff and Aaron, who secure food for On the Move Organics and The Root Cellar. Their shopping list is far reaching and includes cheeses from Monforte Dairy in Stratford; flours from Arva Flour Mill; heritage water buffalo and Berkshire pork sausage from Eco Farms, an Amish growers cooperative in Guelph; milk and cream from Organic Meadow, a cooperative of Ontario family farms; hot beverages from Fire Roasted Coffee, Wisdom Tea and Wildflower Tea companies; herbs from Heritage Line Herbs in Aylmer; produce from Dolway Organic Garden in Hyde Park, Sunnivue Farms in Ailsa Craig, Sleegers Greenhouses Strathroy and HOPE Amish farmers collective in Aylmer; free range chicken and eggs from Don and Sharon Gingerich’s farm in Zurich, which has its own egg grading facility. “It’s the only onsite grading station for certified organic eggs in Southwestern Ontario,” says Aaron, and that enables them to move fresh eggs from laying bed to café quickly.
A list of current food suppliers is posted on a chalk board behind the cash register and updated weekly, ensuring diners can see where The Root Cellar food has been sourced. “It’s very transparent and it helps educate people about local food supply,” says Ellie. Jeff and Aaron work closely with farmers, encouraging them to extend their growing season and to fill specific gaps, for example by planting small fruit orchards since certified organic fruit can be difficult to source locally.
Jeff, Aaron and Joel, who have been home brewing for years, are hoping to establish a London brewing cooperative and to install a nano-brewery in the Root Cellar by the end of the year. The brew crew envisions making elderberry or pumpkin stout, and supporting the revival of regional malt and hops production. It seems like a natural progression for the group who believe in choosing local, organic ingredients whenever possible in whatever they eat and drink.
The Root Cellar
623 Dundas Street, London
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am–7 pm
Natalie Novak is a freelance writer based in London.