At the table / Root & Bloom
Root & Bloom offers a rainbow of plant-based flavors
Photos by Eric Frick
Name: James Ernst, Sarah Sendlbeck
Location: Root & Bloom, 423 Elmwood Avenue, rootandbloomcafe.com
Roles: Co-owners, Sendlbeck does the cooking
Ages: Both are 30
James Ernest and Sarah Sendlbeck have had varied lives and careers, working and traveling through several major metropolitan cities. Ernest, a PR guy, and Sendlbeck, a music therapist, returned to Buffalo, Ernest’s hometown, after roaming the country in a tiny-home caravan with their infant daughter. During their more nomadic period, the couple visited more than a dozen national parks and sought notable vegan dining experiences all over the West Coast. Spurred by the limited vegan options and the absence of any vegan-focused restaurant in Buffalo, the couple opened Root & Bloom. Over the summer, it operated as a pop-up using the secluded outdoor dining room off Elmwood and Bryant once operated by Nickel City Cheese, and before that, Tabree. The couple found their footing and a lot of Instagram success right away, taking over the interior space in early October and transforming their wanderlust into brick and mortar.
Sarah Sendlbeck and James Ernest
What inspired you to pursue owning and operating a restaurant as a profession?
Our inspiration comes from time spent in California. Our flavor profiles are very Southern California inspired, but with the East Coast twist of also being filling and comforting. After living out of a camper van in Los Angeles for six months, we spent time in Joshua Tree. The first night in the desert was calm and serene. The color palette of the sunset across that landscape was just incredible. That feeling has inspired the décor of Root & Bloom, but it can also be found in our food.
What have you found to be the most common misconception meat eaters have of vegan cooking?
That it’s eating salad and greens only. We’ve found that most people think the food won’t have any flavor or that they won’t leave full. We try to use the term plant-based, instead of vegan, to make people forget their preconceived ideas. I think the food speaks for itself.
Recently, kale, Brussels sprouts, and even cauliflower have had their fifteen minutes of fame. What’s next? Is there an unsung hero in the veggie bin you wish people loved as much as you do?
While we love all of those veggies and have found really amazing things to do with cauliflower (including a crusted “steak” and a cultured “feta” cheese), we are loving on beets right now! The color they produce gives our beet-brined seitan “corned beef” its authentic look. Beets also give dishes an earthy flavor profile that can be really nice.
Is there an ingredient with which you are currently fascinated?
Cashews. They go into most of our cheeses, sauces, and dressings. They are so versatile, but you have to know how to coax flavors out of them to achieve a true dairy “zing.” We can turn cashews into rich, creamy queso or delicious and satisfying blue cheese that pairs perfectly with our jackfruit wings. Our cheeses take three days to ferment from cashew to final blend.
Do you think being located on Elmwood has given Root & Bloom any special advantages?
Elmwood is a great location and we definitely see a lot of foot traffic because of that. We also love the community involvement and the collaboration between all the Elmwood Village businesses.
Is there an unexpected lesson opening R&B has afforded you the opportunity to learn?
When we first opened our doors, we expected this to be a summer-only thing. Buffalo has come out and shown their support more than we could have ever imagined. It has illustrated to us that with a little bit of passion and love, anything is possible.
Your go-to food reference cookbook?
We never use cookbooks! The ongoing joke around here is that we’re “intuitive cooks.” We don’t follow recipes and we encourage the kitchen team to lead with their intuition and taste with their palate to make sure things are correct and delicious. Sometimes, though, our team will follow Sarah around with a notebook and try and make sense of the ingredients.
If you were to dine as a guest at Root & Bloom, what would you order?
It would depend on the menu [which changes frequently]. For brunch, the Fernando. Vegan huevos rancheros is incredibly hard to find and the fried tortilla with the scramble and fresh housemade ranchero sauce brings warmth to our souls. For dinner, we would go with the Albert [mushroom loaf with tomato glaze and herbed potatoes]. For daytime hours, the Reuben. There is magic in that sandwich, from the BreadHive rye to the housemade seitan.