The owner of Common Roots Cafe, Danny Schwartzman, talks with us about why they make their own bagels, source most of their food locally and the importance of creating a welcoming community space for everyone, especially in time of hateful rhetoric.
Are you from the Twin Cities?
I grew up by DC in Marlyand, but my mom grew up here. I went to college at Macalester in 2000 and haven’t left.
You’re the Owner of Common Roots Cafe. Was that your first foray into the food biz?
Yes it was. I had an idea in the back of my head for a long time to open a restaurant. I was doing organizing work for non-profits and political campaigns and I really wanted to do something different. I kept coming back to the idea of the restaurant. I spent a year formulating the idea in more detail, meeting with community people and getting advice and suggestions until we opened in 2007.
We’ve been following all the craziness nationally, obviously. With all the hate rhetoric, how can Muslims in our community know who is fearful or wanting them to leave and who stands in support? We thought it was really important to put up a sign letting everyone know that they are welcome here. It’s sad you need to put up a sign to say it but it is important to do it.
It got picked up at different places. The Mainstreet alliance modified it from ours. It’s gotten a good response. We doing it in part as Jews, but also owning a public place in the community, we have a role where we can do something. It’s hard if you’re just walking down the street to let people know you support them. If you have a restaurant it makes sense.
You also support local farmers and producers by sourcing locally. Was that always the case?
That’s part of the concept and our core values for the restaurant. We keep track of our purchases by dollars spent and know that 90 percent of our food is local, organic and fair trade. We’ve work directly with farmers directly. The starting point for the whole menu is, ‘What we can get in town from local farms that’s going to taste good?’
I’ve heard Common Roots has “real” bagels. Where do you get them from?
We make them! We’ve been doing them since we opened. We do all of our baking from scratch. It’s a pretty basic process of boiling and baking. We use very good ingredients and few places do that. Though, we stick to the classics. We added a Parmesan bagel recently, which is the farthest we’ve gone from the traditional flavors.
The concept of the Café is a modern take on a Jewish deli. We make our own lox now, too. And we serve matzo ball soup with real schmaltz.
Sounds delicious and amazing. What’s your favorite nosh?
I like vegetables. The brussel sprouts yesterday were really good, and the carrots roasted with honey and tahini. We try to have no bad options.
Do you eat breakfast at the café? What do you recommend?
I have a bagel and cream cheese, which is what I’ve done before I had a café, too. There are great brunch options, too.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
I like Sukkot. It’s a good opportunity, in context of the restaurant and working with farmers, to celebrate our harvest.
What’s your go-to Jewish recipe?
I cook at home much less since I opened a restaurant. I really like bagels, basic and all the things that come with them. And I like latkes and kugel. We rotate those through the menu….and a really good babke.
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