The Root Cellar Organic Cafe

3:16 PM

I've always wanted to be a 'long time listener, first time caller'. There's something nostalgic and exciting about the term. As a pretty infrequent listener of the radio, my dream seemed unlikely. But, this week, I was sort of able to...

Working as a coffee-slinger for Fire Roasted Coffee years ago, I became familiar with a really cool business venture called On the Move Organics. I knew that the founder, Jeff, rode a bike a lot, I knew that his sister Jen was the smartest person I've ever talked to, and that their smoothies were mind-blowingly delicious. As a huge fan of On the Move Organics I was thrilled to hear about their new cafe operation, The Root Cellar. Branching out from the organic produce delivery end of the business, they now offer coffee, juices and an array of baked items. Be-still my heart. I finally decided to request an interview with Ellie Cook. As the manager of the Root Cellar cafe (the bakery and kitchen are run by Max Collin), Ellie is a big time player in the movement to make our city more community-oriented and sustainable. Like Jen, she's also brilliant, and if I had to guess I'd bet she rides a bike like Jeff too. It's amazing to know that our city is harbouring these inspiring minds who are willing to put action to ideas and make change when it's needed. 
Photo by Jackie Noble

The Root Cellar is located in a dreamy, brick storefront at 623 Dundas St, which is just east of Adelaide.
So I guess you could say I was a 'long time beverage enjoyer, first time emailer'. Which is fine with me. Here's our interview!

What is the Root Cellar's mission?
Our mission is simple: to work to rebuild London's local organic food system, and to serve some really good food while doing it! Through our integration with local organic produce & grocery distribution company, On The Move Organics (, we are able to source most of the food served in the cafe from small-scale, sustainable farms surrounding London, and offer accessible prices while doing so. It is our intention to strengthen the connection between the producers (the farmers) and the consumers (our customers) by communicating regional needs.

This is our statement of intention--it really sums up what we're all about: "We believe that food is political, that the choices we make about food--what we choose to eat and who we choose to support by doing so--resonate through our community, our economy, and our planet. At the foundation of this project is a commitment to invigorating our community, discovering the plentitude of our local foodshed, supporting sustainable agricultural practices, and working cooperatively."

How long had you been mulling over the idea of opening the cafe and what is the story behind its conception? 
I've always been fascinated by cafe culture, specifically how cafes function as social spaces. Historically, cafes were the centre of creative and intellectual innovation. I think some of that has been lost in the modern corporatization of cafe culture, but small, independent cafes (and there's quite a few of them in London!) continue to provide infrastructure for communities. All this to say--I've always mulled over the idea of opening a cafe! (Plus I really, really love coffee.) Near the end of my university degree, I came to work with my partner Jeff and the rest of the team at On The Move Organics, which at the time had just outgrown its delivery box production space at The Western Fair Farmers' & Artisans' Market, and moved to a new, extensively renovated warehouse space at 623 Dundas. The warehouse came with a beautiful storefront--it used to be a winery. We debated a few different ideas of what to do with the space, and ultimately decided that an organic cafe was the way to go. Basically, we wanted to create a new facet of our business that was most conducive to interaction with our customers--enabling us to both serve the food we're bringing in from the farms, and to share the stories behind that food. With the help of Jeff's sister, Jen, I was able to integrate the cafe business planning and development with my final research project for my Social Justice and Peace Studies degree from King's University College. After joining with baker & cook Max Collin, we opened at the end of July, 2012.

What is different about the Root Cellar?
First of all, everything we offer in the cafe is ethical. All of the produce and ingredients in our dishes are certified organic, with 80% local in season. Milk, cream, sugar … it's all organic. We are very transparent about where we source our food from--we have a big blackboard in the cafe stating where everything comes from (right now is an exciting time, because our growing season is just beginning, so we're seeing new local produce every week). Ingredients traveling to us from outside North America (like our coffee, some of our teas, bananas and tropical fruit, cane sugar) are certified fair trade as well as organic. Ultimately, it's important to us to advocate for the small-scale producers we work with, and to always offer them a fair price. 
Something else different about The Root Cellar and On The Move Organics is that, as a business, we are transitioning to a worker co-operative. This model of business centres on democratic work and ownership of the business by the employees. The core team here (there are 5 of us) have been working together over the past year to consensually define our business mission, values and vision. We strongly believe that this type of business model has the resiliency to withstand economic hardship, as it puts the workers first. Along with our business structure, we also measure our success and profitability using a triple bottom line--we weigh fiscal sustainability equally with social responsibility and environmental stewardship. (Our environmental stewardship was just recognized by the London Chamber of Commerce with a Business Achievement Award in Environmental Leadership--an honour we are still reeling from!)
Lastly, we strive to engage our community in the work that we do. At the cafe, we organize a monthly book club meeting (all are welcome!), a bi-weekly Fibre Arts Collective, and various art and crafts knowledge bartering workshops and music nights. All our events are free, or pay what you can, and everyone is welcome. 

What can you expect for food and drink offerings on any given day? 
We offer a fresh organic & seasonal menu that focuses on local produce. Right now we're still working with a Winter Menu (think lots of beets, lots of squash, kale…), but we'll be transitioning to a Spring Menu as fresh greens, asparagus and fiddleheads become available. Everything on our menu is organic. Our menu is mostly made up of salads, soups and sandwiches, with changing daily specials thrown in every day. We also have an in-house bakery, and offer fresh bread and baked goods every day--all made with 100% organic & local flour from Arva Flour Mill. Saturday mornings from 9am-2pm we also offer a breakfast menu featuring local organic eggs, local GMO-free & pastured sausage, french toast, and the like.

Photo by Jackie Noble

 We also have a fresh organic juice and smoothie bar at the cafe, with a variety of made-to-order fruit & veggie juices and smoothies. Our most popular juice, hands-down, is the Sikorski Slammer--beets, carrots, apple, celery and ginger (it's been touted as a hangover cure!). Our green smoothies are also popular, especially for folks who want to grab a quick healthy meal, but don't have time to sit down and eat lunch.
Lastly, we have the typical cafe offerings, but with an ethical twist--organic coffee and espresso, local wildcrafted teas, organic milk lattes, and the like.

What are your vegan and gluten-free options like?
We offer vegan options every day--soups, salads and sandwiches. Our vegan cinnamon buns have also been a big hit! On the cafe side of things, we offer a variety of dairy-free "milks"--my favourite is our fresh house-made fair trade cashew milk. We are not a gluten-free facility, but our soups and salads don't contain gluten. We also bake with a variety of low-gluten ancient grains like spelt and kamut, so our sandwiches are available on low-gluten bread. Our scones and cookies are made with spelt flour as well. 

What is your favourite thing to eat and drink at the Root Cellar?
Everything! My favourite drink is the Emerald City (a green smoothie with almond milk, spinach, kale, banana, strawberries and hemp hearts), although I also love the Ginger Snaps Latte made with cashew milk (I make all our coffee syrups at the cafe--this one has ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves). Food-wise, I love the Sweet Carrot Panini on a multigrain bun (roasted herbed carrot, house-made hummus, fresh spouts, caramelized onions and cheddar), and the Vegan Squash Curry soup. And on the sweet side, I ADORE our vegan cinnamon buns.

Who have been key players in getting your business on its feet?
We are lucky to be surrounded by a vibrant and creative community who are eager to help out with new projects. Our friends, family and neighbours donated much time and effort to help us with our renovation. On The Move Organics' customers have also been incredibly supportive as we started this new project. 

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 
First of all, be original and creative in your work! Work hard and with integrity. Seriously consider the co-operative model as a viable business structure. There is a huge network of support for those interested in starting a co-operative--don't be afraid to reach out! 

What can people do to help sustainability in London?
Support sustainable local businesses! Advocate for a city compost program. This is one I'm working on right now--love your bike and learn how to care for it. Support organizations like Food Not Lawns (and Food Not Bombs), Veggie City, ReForest London, The London Carolinian Food Forest Project, and London's community gardens. Educate yourself about local food systems, organic farming, and food sovereignty. Learn how to grow veggies, to preserve the harvest, to wildcraft tea---these homesteading practices will, if nothing else, instil a deep appreciation for the work our food producers do for us every day.

The Root Cellar is open Tues & Wed from 10 - 7, Thurs & Fri from 10 - 9 and Sat from 9 - 6. Their menu (updated daily) can be found at

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