If you’ve ever taken a drive out Route 15, past Leesburg heading toward the Potomac River and into Maryland, you have, no doubt, seen Roots 657. It is an outstanding (and I mean that in its literal sense) wooden building at the corner of Route 657 and Route 15…hence the name Roots 657. I’ve been intrigued by this structure for some time and finally made my way there. Roots 657 is a cafe and market servicing the great community of Northern Virginia. It is service to the community that is the driving inspiration for the concept of this establishment. Roots offers catering services, space for special events, and cooking classes conducted all over the world for the culinary adventurer. On sight they have a delicious dine in space and a market filled with wares from local and up and coming vendors.
Headlining the “show” at Roots is renowned Certified Master Chef Rich Rosendale who has developed a crazy impressive resume. With a background in fine dining, Chef Rosendale has held the title of US Culinary Team Captain participating in the infamous Bocuse D’Or, which is one of the world’s most prestigious cooking competitions held in Lyon, France at the SIRHA International Hotel, Catering and Food Trade Exhibition.
Prior to relocating to Virginia, Chef Rich was working at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. As their executive chef and director of food and beverage, Rosendale oversaw their $50 million food and beverage operation, 12-15 kitchens, and 185 chefs. Desiring a less remote and more metropolitan lifestyle, Chef Rich and his wife and three children made the move to Northern Virginia. Says Rosendale, “I literally just started Google searching. I was looking all over the place. We were considering [moving to] Los Angeles as I had spent a lot of time in California working on CBS’s television show Recipe Rehab, but I’m an East Coast person. Ultimately we ended up in DC. We kept getting further and further out [of The District] as we were looking at houses. We came to [the Leesburg area] and loved it.”
Rosendale has spent a tremendous amount of time traveling and has studied in so many different places that he has developed a robust skill set for cuisines of all types. Says Chef, “It’s not like some chefs where they [identify with one cooking] style. For me it’s not so much. You could put a whole pig in front of me and I could cook it. Or I could do a super refined, 7 course tasting menu. My tagline for the company is ‘Food. Inspiration. Adventure.’ The adventure component, for me is really important. I’d get bored doing the same thing every day.” He goes on, “I love to go to India, for example, and do a cooking demonstration, but then spend the rest of the time out learning from all the street vendors. There’s always something to learn.” His flexibility in the kitchen is a pure gift. Says Chef Rich, “I could get excited about making a pot of red sauce and spaghetti, or something super healthy like a light tuna dish and a citrusy salad. But for me, I also love to have a great burger and some fries. I just want to make sure that if I’m going to spend those calories then I’m going to get something good. That’s why I wanted to create this place.”
Explains Chef, “When I was at the Greenbrier, I could bring [my kids] there, but it was a very formal environment. It’s beautiful, with big stately columns and plush beautiful rooms, but it is formal.” He goes on, “What I’ve learned over the years, fine dining is the ultimate ego trip. It’s so much about your personality and your style. But sometimes not everybody can enjoy that. To me I thought that was sad; to think that most of the food I was doing all of these years, at that high level… a lot of my friends, and family, and people that love me, would never be able to come and experience that. It was executed at an almost out of reach level that a lot of people knew of me, but they really couldn’t enjoy [my food]. I didn’t want to have a place that you have to wait until your birthday to come and eat. I still like to keep the same quality standards, but now I can share this experience with anybody.”
Patrons can come into Roots in shorts, they can run around outside, and eat a cheeseburger. It’s meant to provide a venue to spend quality time with friends and family. Says Chef Rich, “I found a way to align my family life with the work. It’s nice to come in here and see the employees bringing their kids in. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
This community-centric establishment began almost humbly. Instead of developing a huge campaign resting on Rosendale’s impressive resume, he and his team quietly opened their doors on a Wednesday afternoon and let word of mouth do its thing. Says Rosendale, “People began trickling in, and trickling in, and the next thing we knew we were way busier than we thought we would be.”
On the market side, visitors will find an assortment of locally made products like candy, beer, honey and hand painted note cards and pottery, to name a few. And if you’re headed to one of the wineries for the day, just bring your empty basket and you can pack a handsome picnic straight from their shop. Chef Rich also uses his international reach, and every engagement that he does, as a platform for people to be able to put their products in Roots’ market. So for somebody who sells maple syrup, or just has a passion for making salsa (Shout out to Texas Trey’s!), for example, they can work with Rosendale and his team to potentially put it on the shelves and have him as an ambassador.
Chef Rich explains, “I might take some of the products from here, like for example, the handmade pottery, to one of my cooking classes and share it with the class. It’s a way to introduce the artisans to people beyond this region and this store.” Chef will also bring products back from places that he visits. He explains, “I traveled to Michigan and met one of the guys that was just featured on CNBC’s The Profit, called Detroit Denim. They make aprons and high-end jeans. I loved the aprons, so I’ll work out the details and I’ll sell them at Roots. Another guy that I met, Christopher Stavely of Stavely Woodworks in Atlanta, was passionate about woodworking and is just getting started. I loved his cutting boards. I bought a bunch of them and brought them back here to Roots and sold them.” But it’s Chef’s travels and real desire to help others that opens the door for these collaborations and opportunities. Chef Rich adds, “I really am trying to do what I can within this industry that has been very generous to me. What can I do to try to recycle that?”
The team at Roots 657 consists of partners and co-owners Rosendale, Muriel Sarmadi, her husband Mehrdad, and Chef de Cuisine Joe Peroney (also from The Greenbrier). Says Chef, “I’m a big believer in having win-win situations with everybody in collaboration. What can we do where everyone is going to benefit?” Rosendale is not the only person that has applied a vision to Roots. Their model allows all members to contribute so everyone has a stake in the success. Even their really cool modern, yet rustic name was a collective effort. (Ok, I just really love the name. The whole duel meaning…I’m a word geek. LOVE it. It’s just so smart. I digress.)
And he means for this collaboration and benefit to trickle all the way down to the farmers by allowing the farmer to grow what they grow best as opposed to dictating products based on the menu. Rosendale built the menu around what the farm was already producing and producing well.
But all eyes look to Chef Rich as the idea man. He admits, “I tend to have a lot of ideas, and at times too many ideas, but in the end we try to make Roots something that everybody feels really good about.”
As I touched on earlier, Chef Rosendale’s resume is quite impressive. Participating in over fifty national and international cooking competitions, Rosendale has a strong background in fine dining, but desired to create a place that wasn’t all about ego and him dictating to the guests what to eat. While conceptualizing this project he asked, “What does everybody want to eat? Let’s just make that really well. Set the ego aside and make really yummy soups, big pieces of oversized apple pie, chocolate cake, and hand-cut French fries. But know that when you come in to Roots and get a soup or some corn pudding, we made that right here from scratch.”
Along with their dining room, Roots provides catering service, online ordering and take out. (I was really excited about the take out because I had my eye on some Maryland Crab Soup!). The burgers are made from ground meat that is all natural, dry aged, grass fed beef from Roseda Black Angus Beef Farm in Maryland.
Something to keep in mind with Roots 657; when they are sold out, they are sold out. Says Chef Rich, “I am actually kind of proud of the fact that, yes sometimes we’re going to run out. We may have a little bit more in the refrigerator, but we won’t reheat that. For me, the quality is really important.” Every day, the meat is trimmed and cooked fresh overnight for the next day. So when it’s gone, it’s gone. But not to worry. If they are ever sold out of what you were after, they have plenty of other really delicious things on the menu: sandwiches on fresh bread baked daily, and yummy soups too; all made on sight. Wash it all down with wine by the glass (or a bottle can be purchased) or a local craft beer on tap.
Although Roots tries to stick to the same core menu, you may have some subtle seasonal changes. Chef Rich might add, or feature as a special, items based on whatever products their supplying farm has harvested. A continuing evolution is to be expected for sure.
Having owned other restaurants in the past, Rosendale wanted Roots 657 to be a place that was less about him and his accolades and more about having something for the community and a place for him to make a connection with the residents of Northern Virginia. He loves that his neighbors come in to take his cooking classes. He loves being able to donate a chocolate cake to his kids’ daycare. He loves having the local school sell their merchandise in the market, which creates money for them. Roots has become a meeting place for a lot of the community. Chef Rich adds, “I love coming in and seeing people who are owners of wineries or people who make honey. It’s nice to come in here and see business people, or someone right off the baseball field coming in with their family. Everybody can come in and be comfortable. I’m kind of recycling the money, the concept, and my experience and trying to give back to the community as much as possible.”
Regarding future plans for Roots, Chef Rosendale shares, “I think where we’re going to be, even a year from now, is going to be a lot further down the runway than where we are now. In the early part of my career, I would try to control the process as much as possible. As I’ve gotten more experience, I’m able to really let Roots grow more organically, so it’s more about where it goes and less about where I want to take it.”
But current plans do include a live fire theater where cooking classes will be conducted. They will build up the patio with a solar paneled pergola as well as the greenhouse for outdoor event space, but that’s not where it has to stop. And whatever is on the shelves in the market a year from now, might be very different just based on the people that come in. Says Chef Rosendale, “That’s something I’ve learned over the years. Sometimes you might have a vision of what you think success looks like, but you also have to be a bit nimble these days because that’s just how the world is.”
Roots 657 is hosting an Easter Brunch on April 1, 2018. Advance tickets available for three seatings.
Roots 657 is located at 42301 Spinks Ferry Road, Leesburg, VA 20176