The Uprooted Kitchen’s Tempeh breakfast sandwich.

June 4, 2020

Alyssa Tufts

The Uprooted Kitchen brings plant-based deliciousness to Gilbert

While many industries have been hit hard by COVID-19, the restaurant industry nationwide and in Arizona has had to quickly adjust operations and staffing decisions to remain open. 

The Uprooted Kitchen in Gilbert faced challenges with COVID-19 restrictions, transitioning to take out orders only, and closing their dine-in space. The plant-based eatery prides itself on using local, fresh and organic ingredients to create wheat-free sweet and savory entrees that customers love.

However, owners Erin and Chad Romanoff adjusted quickly with former pastry chef Erin helming the kitchen to create healthy, plant-based dishes for their customers and Chad overseeing restaurant operations with placing orders, administrative tasks and interacting with customers.

We spoke with the husband and wife about how their business has adjusted from starting as a food truck in 2012, to opening their brick and mortar restaurant in 2016 on Gilbert’s Agritopia property, to running their restaurant on their own.

Erin and Chad Romanoff.

AZ Big Media: What are your backgrounds and what led you to open a restaurant?

Erin Romanoff: Before we started our business in 2012, I was a pastry chef, so I had a culinary background and went to culinary school at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. I worked in the industry as a pastry chef. Before we started the food truck, Chad was in healthcare working as a pediatric occupational therapist.

We wanted to start a business together and we work well together and Chad knew that he probably wasn’t going to be a pediatric OT forever, it’s quite a taxing career and it’s mentally and physically draining. I wanted to do something that would fit with my background, and he had wanted to open a bakery or a cafe, and at the time we had young kids, so we opted for the food truck because it was more flexible with time and a little less of a financial commitment.

Even though I was a pastry chef, we started to eat a cleaner diet and as we had kids we started to be more critical of the food that we were eating at home. We were looking for restaurants that suited the way we wanted to eat and we were having trouble finding that at the time, so we thought, ‘there’s got to be people out there in the community that eat like us and that really care about local, organic, whole foods,’ so we thought a food truck would be a great experimental way that we could try our menu out and see if there were people in the community that were interested in a vegetarian, vegan, organic menu and it wouldn’t take as much effort as opening a brick and mortar.

Chad stayed an occupational therapist to support our family that way until we were sure we wanted to move forward with something larger. So those four years in the food truck we found a lot of similar people to us that loved the food that we were making and we found great support and so once we felt comfortable that we had a following and that we could expand, in 2016, we decided for Chad to leave occupational therapy and join me full time in the restaurant.

AZ Big Media: How would you describe your menu and what are some standout items?

Chad Romanoff: I would say whole food, plant-based is the quickest way to describe our cuisine, and Barnone is situated in the neighborhood of Agritopia, which is then located on Agritopia farm, so we try to source whatever they’re growing for the season, then Erin really tries to plan a lot of our menu items around what is growing at that time.

ER: A lot of our menu changes every week, there are some things that stay every week, but typically we have about 5 or 6 things that change every week based on what’s seasonal, what’s growing here and focus on organic as much as possible. All of our produce is organic and most other items we use in the restaurant, anything we can get that’s organic we opt for that.

CR: We have some core things on the menu like our savory Tempeh Breakfast Sandwich with a tempeh patty, housemade nann bun, avocado, tomato, caramelized onion, a balsamic side salad, and roasted potatoes, and then we have one of our sweeter items, Baked French Toast with “proof” sourdough, almond banana batter, housemade coconut yogurt, granola, mixed berry preserves, and fruit.

Az Big Media: How have you adjusted operations in the wake of COVID-19? 

CR: Our operations changed; we laid off our small staff of 5 employees and Erin and I have been running our restaurant by ourselves, so in order to do that– I’m not a chef, Erin has been making all of the food–so we had to A: scale back our hours and days and B: scale back the amount of offerings that we could provide for people.

ER: We came up with a four-day a week schedule with modified hours, we’re usually only open one night but now we’re open two evenings for people, so I have enough time to prep on my days off. We’ve definitely made it a smaller menu serving six items a week and changing every item each week and rotating everybody’s favorites so we’re still serving a variety of food; we’re also doing a Wednesday night and Friday night special. 

We’ve also transitioned to an online ordering system which we never had before, we always had people order in person, but now we’re doing in person orders or online orders only and it’s worked really well, so it’s something that we may keep as we move forward.

Everything is in to-go containers; we’re doing all to-go boxes, to-go silverware, cups and straws. We have a window on our patio and for the past two months, people come to the window and grab their food to take it home so that’s worked out well. 

The last two weeks we’ve opened our patio up for dining, so we did start to have a few people sit and eat outside, so that was a good transition. We have plenty of space on our patio, we’re not a restaurant that packs people in, we have really loyal customers and we have a nice following, but it’s usually a steady pace throughout the day, our customers have been really respectful waiting at a distance from each other for their pickup orders.

AZ Big Media: How do you hope after this period of time will affect The Uprooted Kitchen’s operations as a restaurant?

ER: We did a fair amount of to-go orders before all of this happened, so I think we’ll continue to see predominantly to-go orders for a while and maybe that’ll even continue for the future. The online menu I think will probably continue as well, people are probably going to want us to keep that available.

Our restaurant is very small inside, we only have 24 seats normally, so when we decide to open for dine in, we’ll have to cut that significantly and only have a small amount of chairs, I think it will be a gradual progression before we see a full restaurant of people. 

We also have people that love our food so much, they know it’s nourishing food, they feel really safe with Chad and I being the owners, we’re always here, even before this happened, Chad and I are always in the restaurant. 

We’ve built relationships with our customers so I think they’ll continue to support us and we’ll continue to see more of them coming back more than we have so far. I think they’ll continue to trust us and be comfortable that we’re doing our best sanitation and food safety procedures so we have no doubt that we will eventually be back to our normal customer base, but we understand that people want to take it slow before they’re comfortable just being out and about. I think eventually it will look similar to what it did previously.

AZ Big Media: What is the most rewarding part of owning a restaurant?

CR: There’s two big things for me, one is that I get to work with my wife and best friend every day of my life and the second, which I don’t get to see as much right now which makes me sad, is seeing people’s reaction when they eat Erin’s food, because it’s often a lot of joy and elation and just seeing people that like plant based, nourishing food, food that makes them feel good, as well as seeing the customers interact with each other and talk about it and get excited about it.

ER: We never anticipated our customers thanking us as much as they do, so every day, from 2012 to now, there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t get multiple people coming up to us and thanking us for what we’re doing. There are days where it’s super hard work and you’re tired and you’re trying to do your best, and you forget why you’re doing it sometimes and then someone will come up and thank us and you realize what a big deal it is—we try to put thoughtful, careful energy into everything we serve, so for people to recognize that, that’s really nice.