“Compassionate eating” – is one of the many values that sets Healthy Roots Cafe apart from other eateries. The recently opened Phoenix-based cafe is entirely plant-based, but most importantly, it is run by students at V.H. Lassen Elementary, as well as the community.
It was founded by Krystal Harris- a personal chef who has a more holistic approach to cooking (I had first met Chef Krystal at a past Zen Nights event). The Phoenix native was one of eight siblings, and had always loved to watch her parents cook. “My mother is from Thailand and I was intrigued at a very young age by the different techniques she used in making authentic dishes. My father was from Alabama and brought his love of southern soul homestyle cooking into our house on many occasions,” Krystal explained.
After moving to South Phoenix, she became involved with the folks that run Spaces of Opportunity, which is a 10-acre incubator farm that helps to enable families in the area to have access to healthy food. One of the people she met- John Wann, who is the Director of The Orchard Community Learning Center, told her about an opportunity to remedy a school culinary program that had lost its’ funding. The opportunity was to take on a role as Healthy Community Coordinator and to create a plant-based restaurant that would be run by the students. She knew she’d be perfect for that role, as she had decided that her next step in her career would involve serving her community in some aspect.
So Healthy Roots Cafe was born, and June 7th, 2019, was its’ grand opening day. Krystal goes on to talk about the concept, “It’s a labor of love. The kids are dedicated and choose to be here on their non-school hours. They are learning culinary and life skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. They understand that the impact of our food choices will make a difference in our communities and for the planet. We use recycling and composting practices while in the restaurant, which translates into the kids being more environmentally mindful at home…Most of the food is organic and hyperlocal, meaning it comes from within a 5-mile radius. It’s ran by students ages 10 and up, who all have their food handlers card. The food is made fresh daily and we offer a rotating seasonal menu. All the recipes are low in sugar, fat and salt but big in flavor. The recipes are internationally inspired and rooted in a variety of cultures.”
I visited the little cafe back in June. The concept was still fresh and exciting; and the kids did a good job. I loved that the menu had a list of the major ingredients, along with their cultural influence and scientific health benefits. I had the Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice and the Juniper Ash Pancakes, which were wonderful! They, along with the Seasonal Tamales, Toast of the Day, and the Chia Seed Pudding have been their best-selling dishes so far. The menu is set, but there are rotating specials that are offered weekly on items like: tamales, soup, agua fresca, and sometimes a chef’s special (which features a recipe/dish from a guest chef).
The cafe is located at V.H. Lassen Elementary (909 W. Vineyard Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85041), and is open every Saturday through May (unless otherwise noted to accommodate school holidays) from 9AM – 12PM. They are also hoping to be open an additional day, which would be Friday nights for a family-style dinner (stay tuned on their social media for an announcement).
If you are in Phoenix and would love a pleasant and unique dining experience, paired with great food, you MUST plan a visit to HRC! Be sure to follow along on their Instagram and Facebook for announcements and such, as well as ‘liking,’ sharing, and posting about your experience. If you aren’t local, but would like to donate to the program, go online to orchardlearningcenter.org or healthyrootscafe.com (website coming soon). You may also give a school tax credit donation to V.H. Lassen and note ‘Healthy Roots Cafe.’