Roots opens new location, launches new app

Corner restaurant expands down the street and online


Roots, a staple on the Corner, recently opened a second Charlottesville location.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

A new restaurant serving healthy salad and grain bowls opened its doors in 2015 to a Corner monopolized by fast food. Nearly three years have passed since then, and Roots Natural Kitchen has come a long way since its humble beginnings.

Economic Prof. Lee Coppock was a former teacher of the Roots founders. His cited their success in part due to their knowledge of the college culture and market for food like Roots provides.  

“It came around at the right time, and people just really wanted some fresh salads,” Coppock said.

Roots added its second location, after its original on West Main Street, last year in Newark, Del. to serve those around the University of Delaware. This summer anticipates the opening of restaurants new locations in Richmond, Va., Pittsburgh Pa., and Austin, Texas. With all this going on around the country, Roots is also growing just up the street from the University.

When St. Maarten’s Cafe on Wertland St. closed in 2016, the Roots founders saw the opportunity to expand without having to leave their current location. The space has been completely renovated to fit Roots’ original eco-chic vibe from West Main.

“We opened [the new location because] the kitchen was starting to feel too small,” co-founder of Roots Alberto Namnum said. “It was a really small space, and you couldn’t make things in as large quantities as you would’ve liked to because there wasn’t the storage for it.”

The Wertland Street location now serves as a headquarters of sorts for the Roots’ app order pickups, catering, additional prep space for the Charlottesville and Richmond locations and a potential delivery service.

“It seemed like there was a demand that wasn’t being fully met,” Namnum said. “There’s people who will walk to Roots, see the line, then not want to get in it because it’s too long.”

The goal of the Wertland Street location is to help shorten the lines outside West Main. Customers can order their bowls through the Roots Natural Foods app and pick them up at Wertland Street instead of joining a longer line.

“The app is probably the most exciting thing, [but had] one tiny problem,” Namnum said. “I’m a big fan of testing things before they’re not complete, so you restrict the potential damage and then you can look, learn and build it throughout the learning process.”

When the new app launched Feb. 15, an error in the coding resulted in roughly 500 orders for 12 p.m., contrary to the coding that was meant to receive four orders every five minutes. After rushing to make nearly 250 no-substitution bowls and handing out coupons and free bowls via email, the Roots team has recovered and ensured that the app is ready and workable for iOS, with Android usage coming soon.

“We’ve laughed a lot since it happened because life comes down to those memories,” Namnum said. “What happened definitely shouldn’t happen again.”

After the initial mishap, University students have begun to see the benefits of the app.

“I tried it [the app] on the day it failed and it said I wasn’t in the correct time frame,” fourth-year College student and avid Roots-goer Jenny Lee said. “Though I’m sad St. Maarten’s won’t be another bar, I’m happy that I won’t have to wait in that line [on West Main] anymore.”

No matter how many locations Roots expands to or how successful the Wertland location is, there are no plans to move away from the tiny location on West Main that serves hospital workers and University students alike or to dramatically change the food served in any of its locations.

“We’re not trying to change,” Namnum said. “The whole goal is to keep the bowls and make them good. It’s important to remember why you did things the way you originally did things. This is our home, I don’t think we would ever leave ... It’d be sad to see a Roots where the line fits indoors.”

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