Story and photos by Srianthi Perera
Gilbert residents Erin and Chad Romanoff first experimented with their plant-based recipes in a food truck parked outside the Quonset Hut in Agritopia in 2012.
Plant-based food (mostly vegan, whole food) doesn’t command a rabid following, they noted, but they didn’t do badly. On Wednesday nights, they parked at the barn and served dinner for about 50 people.
Encouraged by their appreciative comments, the couple joined the craftsman community in Agritopia’s Barnone by establishing The Uprooted Kitchen. Barnone is a community for skilled craftsman to make and sell handcrafted goods. In the Romanoffs’ case, the goods are edible.
The diminutive restaurant – it has 750 square feet of space and seating for 24 inside the building and 24 on the patio – employs four excluding the couple. It serves breakfast, lunch and the occasional sit-down dinner and presents organic, mostly vegan (bee’s honey is one non-vegan item used) and local plant-based food. Coconut oil and olive oil are the only two oils used. There are no animal products, such as meat, dairy and eggs. Wheat-free options are available.
“I think people are growing more thoughtful of what they’re eating. We’re still quite a minority, being in the vegetarian and vegan community, and there are many people who look at our menu and they think it’s not for them,” Erin said.
Mainstream Phoenix has yet to latch on to its health benefits.
“There are some who like to eat plant based-food occasionally, they love the flavors. People at least know what that means now,” she added. “We’re definitely able to have conversations with customers a lot on food. And we’re seeing more and more will have questions and caring about what they’re eating. It’s very encouraging.”
The Uprooted Kitchen’s runaway success is the Tempeh Breakfast Sandwich, which is a tempeh (soy) patty served on a naan bun with avocado, tomato, caramelized onion, arugula, greens and roasted potatoes ($10). Their Baked French Toast, comprising almond banana batter, coconut yogurt, granola and fruit ($11), is a close second on the popularity scale.
Five items change weekly, according to seasonal availability, including the soup, salad and the cold-case items.
Chad and Erin met in college in New York City, where vegetarian food “was normal to offer” in restaurants.
“We gravitated toward that. There was such creativity and flavors to it, not just putting a piece of meat on a plate. We always enjoyed eating that way,” Erin said.
They moved to the Valley, where Erin studied to become a pastry chef at Scottsdale Culinary Institute and forge a path with white flour, refined sugar, eggs and butter at three restaurants in the Valley.
Chad, an occupational therapist for 17 years, worked in pediatric rehabilitation. The last nine years of his career, he worked at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.
They were always careful of what they consumed, but when the twins arrived, their thinking and meal patterns changed.
“It’s been a transformation for us. Things really started transforming a lot for us when we had our kids. You start thinking about what you’re giving your kids, and then, of course, it should reflect back on yourself,” he said. “For us, it was pretty important.”
The twin sons, now 13-year-old students at Legacy Traditional School in Chandler, are also vegetarian.
Erin devised the menu and they began their business.
“Even a dessert should have some nutrition to it; it shouldn’t just be sugar,” Chad said.
Erin set about transforming the rich, calorie-laden desserts she learned to make in culinary school and made them more nutritious including “desserts that are dairy-free, no refined sugar that they can feel better about.
“It’s still a treat, it’s still an indulgence, but it has really thoughtful ingredients,” she said. These may include maple syrup, coconut sugar and fruit.
Ingredients for The Uprooted Kitchen come from near and far: The Farm at Agritopia is steps away and most of the seasonal fruits and vegetables arrive after a text message is placed to the farmer.
“It’s definitely as local as you can get,” Erin said.
A certified organic wholesale purveyor also brings fruit and dry goods from Arizona or California.
The Romanoffs’ twins have food-handlers’ certificates, too, and help out when they can but the parents don’t see them taking over the restaurant in the future.
The business keeps them on their toes. Living in Agritopia helps because they have no commute but Erin spends much of her time, even during weekends, prepping for the week.
But there are no regrets.
“Right now, all we can see ourselves doing is this. We are so content. There’s no plan to do six of these,” Erin said.
They love their creative surroundings as well.
“We really are our own little community. We collaborate with each other. We were looking for a unique space, and we couldn’t ask for a more unique space,” she added.
The Uprooted Kitchen is at Barnone, Agritopia, 3000 E. Ray Road, Gilbert.
Open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.