A café committed to a green mission

Common Roots Café has been a leader in championing the local food movement since it opened in 2007 at 2558 Lyndale Ave. S.

About half of its ingredients come from sources within 250 miles of the café, according to its website.

Here are highlights of a recent interview with the café’s owner Danny Schwartzman. 

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Q: What is Common Roots Café?

A: At Common Roots we serve good food made from scratch with local and organic ingredients.  Our food is a modern twist on a traditional delicatessen. We are many things to many people — we’re happy to be a neighborhood meeting place. 

Common Roots Catering provides full-service catering to a wide array of clients — from office lunches to galas and weddings. 

Q: How has your business evolved over the years?

A: We’ve steadily evolved what we do and grown, while keeping the same core — serving a changing menu that starts with the best local and organic ingredients available with no exceptions. We’ve grown our offerings over the years, but are still happy to see the same great mix of people coming into the cafe.

Not long after we opened, we launched Common Roots Catering. At first, we worked out of the same kitchen, but over the years we outgrew our space and were happy to open a new 5,000-square-foot catering kitchen and office at 2940 Harriet Ave. S. We are a full-service caterer, catering everything from office lunches to weddings.  

Q: What does sustainability mean to Common Roots Café?

A: Sustainability means thinking about the long-term consequences of our operations and working to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible.

Q: How has Common Roots Café become more sustainable over the years?

A: Environmental sustainability has been a priority for us since day one. Before opening, we made a point of hiring contractors with sustainability in mind, and asked questions many vendors weren’t used to being asked about energy efficiency. 

Steadily over time we’ve seen those questions become less and less surprising to vendors. Our initial build-out incorporated many green features including: salvaged wood flooring and table tops, salvaged lighting, high efficiency hoods, water heating and more.  

In the years since, we’ve regularly tried to make the cafe more efficient. This has included little things that have a big impact like replacing a conveyor belt toaster that used an amazing amount of electricity with a drop down model that only heats when someone orders a toasted bagel. 

We’ve also done bigger things like insulating our attic space and replacing our roof with a white foam roof that provides extra insulation, reduces cooling costs, and has a longer lifespan than conventional roofing.  We added LED lighting throughout the cafe.

We also try to tell the story of what we do in a way that hopefully helps encourage others to think about what they can do.  Check out our current infographic at http://commonrootscafe.com/infographic/. In past years we’ve included information about the environmental impact of our fair-trade coffee purchases, the impact of our switch to LED lighting, and much more. 

Q: How does sustainability fit into Common Roots Café’s business model?

A: It’s core to what we do, and not an after thought. There is also internal tracking and management of staff based on these goals. The biggest part of sustainability for us as a restaurant and caterer is where we buy our food.  

Q: Are you using any sort of tracking methodology to measure you progress on sustainability goals?

A: Every month we look at how much of our purchases are local and organic based on dollars spent. Every line of every invoice is coded and has been since we opened in 2007. Internally this helps us work to constantly improve what we do, and its also something we report to customers.  Every month we update sourcing numbers on our website, we print them on our menu, and put them up in store. See http://commonrootscafe.com/our-values/ for last month’s numbers.

We’ve composted since day one and Eureka Recycling keeps track of weights of all the compost they’ve picked up — well over 400,000 pounds so far. 

Q: What has been your greatest challenge?

A: We’ve had challenges finding better options for many things you would think would be common sense. Even though restaurants use a great deal of energy, it’s still hard to get energy usage info when buying restaurant appliances. 

If you buy a refrigerator for home, there’s a quite informative sticker that gives you a sense of energy usage. If you buy a walk-in cooler, it’s surprisingly difficult. Vendors are further along than they used to be, but still not where we’d hope they would be. We have tried steadily to push the envelope on what’s possible, but we’re still waiting for options to recover heat from our hood ducts and use it to heat water, and to pull in outside air to cool our coolers in the winter — and we thought we had figured out a way to do those things many years ago. 

Q: What sustainability goals do you have for the future?

A: We want to continue to expand what we do — from helping to get more people growing food in the city and supporting more farmers. We are working on more creative ways we can leverage our purchases to help emerging farmers get going. And we’ll keep on trying to reduce our energy usage. 

Q: What one thing would make it easier for you to achieve your sustainability goals?

More time. More money. More push from others to show vendors that offering environmentally friendly equipment/supplies, etc. is good for business. 

Sustainability in the City is a quarterly column that features Minneapolis-based business owners’ views and efforts on sustainability.  If you would like to be considered for future columns, please contact Craig Wilson at Craig.Wilson@sustology.com.