Building community at Common Roots Cafe


Only a year after opening its doors, Common Roots Café in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood already has the local food critics singing its praises. Both the Pioneer Press and City Pages praised the cafe’s hand-made bagels, which critic Rick Nelson called, “a bagel Minnesota can be proud of!” Rachel Hutton from City Pages described the cafe’s offerings as, “lively – inspiring, even”, while Jay Boller from the Minnesota Daily noted plainly that the food “tastes darn good”.

The critics are right. Simply put, owner Danny Schwartzman’s delivers on his promise of “serving really good food.”

Everything is made fresh from scratch, with an emphasis on healthy and responsible food. Most of the cafe’s fare is produced using locally-grown ingredients, creating dishes that are “tastier, fresher, and support the local economy.”

Delicious food aside, it may be the local impact which brings new customers in and keeps the regulars coming back. Since July of 2007, 83.4% of all food and beverage purchases have been local, organic, or fair-trade. In August alone, 63% of all food purchases were local, effectively supporting area producers and keeping more money in the community. Schwartzman’s motive for buying local is rooted in the need to know the source and quality of the food. “We know the origins, the back story,” he said. “Public accountability is important. Part of the goal is getting people to ask.”

Schwartzman’s commitment to public responsibility extends beyond the buy local movement. The mid-sized cafe’‚ strongly encourages customers to recycle and compost their waste, offering biodegradable silverware and take-out bins. The cafe’s tabletops are made from environmentally-friendly sunflower seeds, and the caf‚ relies on low energy operations.

Common Roots further contributes to the community by offering living wage jobs that pay at least $11.40 per hour. Employees working at least 20 hours a week also receive health and other benefits. In addition, the cafe’‚ offers free meeting space for nonprofit organizations and community events, carrying out Schwartzman’s vision of creating a “community resource for the neighborhood”.

“I started with the premise that the only way I’m going to run the business in a responsibly way. It’s not a compromise,” Schwartzman says.

He’s right – Common Roots is an ethical but modestly-priced alternative to the typical coffee shop, but still manages to offer mouth-watering and fresh food. Personally, after trying the Rootsy Lucy on Friday, a twist on the traditional Jucy Lucy burger, I was so impressed that I returned on Sunday for a roast beef, Gouda, and spinach sandwich and a savory carrot cupcake for dessert. I was not alone – the cafe’‚ was packed with people, and there was a lively buzz that’s rarely found in public venues on Sunday evenings.

Common Roots Cafe’ offers several vegetarian and vegan options in addition to meat-based entrees. It also features a great local beer and fair-trade wine selection, and of course, those award-winning bagels. The cafe is located at 2558 Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis. It’s open from 7am-10pm Sunday through Thursday, and 7am-11pm on Friday and Saturday. Parking space is provided, but patrons are encouraged to bus, carpool, or bike to the cafe.

Common Roots is a great example of small business making a positive impact on Minnesota’s communities. State policymakers should take note of this, and other small businesses before chasing down large conglomerates with tax breaks.