by Amy Brooks, BDC Editor
Imagine eating a BBQ chicken wrap stuffed with mac and cheese and sautéed greens paired with a chocolate peanut butter shake. Heavenly, right? This summer, when as you happily scarf down this comfort food, you’ll discover this particular meal is vegan.
Root + Bloom cafe, opening this June, is setting itself up to be Buffalo’s first plant-based restaurant. The menu is filled with plantfusion and soul food options that will completely change your current notions of what vegan food is.
Breaking down stereotypes
“We actually don’t call the restaurant vegan,” Co-owner Sarah Sendlbeck explained, “We call it plant-based because vegan tends to have a lot of misconceptions attached to it.”
Not all of Root + Bloom’s menu items will trick you into thinking that you’re in your favorite soul food dinner, but Sendlbeck and her partner James Ernst are on a mission to prove that vegan food is more than a salad or a dressed-up side dish.
“For us, it’s just about getting rid of the stigma that vegan food or plant-based food is something different.” Ernst said, “It’s just all food.”
Who could turn their nose up at something as flavorful as a whole roasted cauliflower covered in a cajun rub, crisp caramelized maple syrup and coconut sugar with a lemon cream drizzle?
Still, if cauliflower isn’t your thing, your mouth might water at the mention of the “sexiest + sweetest” jumbo cinnamon roll filled with layers of sugar and spice. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s topped with cultured-cashew cream cheese icing and fresh fruit.
The restaurant will also serve dishes with tempeh and seitan - popular protein replacements that take on the flavor of whatever spices they’re seasoned with.
Sendlbeck is steering clear of a menu packed with tofu and soy-based products in order to showcase different, delicious foods that all fit into a plant-based diet.
Bringing the community together
Opening a plant-based restaurant wasn’t always at the forefront of either owner’s mind. Sendlbeck was a music therapist and Ernst was in public relations. Three years ago, the pair decided to bring a plant-based food experience to vegan community of Buffalo.
They started with pop-up dinners. Titling the series “Improveged,” the pair sold tickets to these plant-based dinners while keeping their location a secret. On the day of the event, each guest received and email with a cryptic poem and the address where the dinner was held.
“It was so fun,” Sendlbeck said. “It was this underground dinner pop-up series, and we would connect with local businesses. Bootleg Bucha would do our drinks, we were partnering with Happy Cakes Vegan Bakery, and we would find different spots around the city [to eat].”
During these dinners the seed of an idea that would later grow into Root + Bloom was planted. Before the idea had completely sprouted, though, the couple took their daughter on a year-long trip to in California in a converted van.
“Having that community involvement, and doing it in a way where people can feel like they’re having some sort of ownership in this... just makes it feel like something that is beyond us and just a bigger part of the community,” Ernst said.A few months into their journey, the couple decided they would open up their own plant-based restaurant when they returned to Buffalo. In order to grow a business firmly rooted in the community, the pair asked their neighbors for help fundraising.
The pair wanted to have a place that would help to nourish and grow more than just their own business, but the local vegan community as a whole. To do this, they plan to promote local plant-based businesses wherever they can - from featuring local ingredients on their cafe menu to creating a space where vendors can sell their goods.
“Our philosophy is that everyone that is working and doing some sort of plant-based or vegan restaurant business, we’re all growing the community together,” Ernst explained.
On top of that, the business is committed to using as many locally grown, organic products as possible in an effort to showcase the New York State farmers and the quality food they produce.
Good food is good food
“We want to show that plant-based food is not [just] salads, it’s not for rabbits,” Sendlbeck said with a smile. “It can be deeply satisfying, intriguing, special, flavorful - a place where you can go with your friends no matter what your lifestyle is. Whether you eat meat or dairy or you don’t, everyone can gather at our spot and have a really wonderful time doing that.”
After the restaurant’s grand opening in June, Sendlbeck and Ernst hope that it will be a place where people who are currently on plant-based diets can bring their friends and family who are curious about this type of food.
To get involved with Root + Bloom’s journey and to learn more about their plant-based catering and MRKT, check out their Facebook and Website. If you’re as excited as we are to visit them in person, mark your calendars for their grand opening on June 1!