Alvaro Anspach and Alberto Namnum are passionate about vegetables. Eat mostly fresh veggies and fruits, they believe, and you’ll soon feel more energetic and focused. How are they spreading the gospel? From the pulpit of their restaurant, Roots Natural Kitchen, where they serve salads and grain bowls packed with avocados, broccoli and other super-healthy ingredients.
The recent University of Virginia alums, along with two other partners, opened Roots on the Corner in June and have already amassed a loyal following. But before they could open their doors, of course, the Roots concept needed a physical home. The founders approached Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects early in the process to help them size up potential locations.
“We looked at multiple spaces,” says Garett Rouser, project architect. Ultimately, a spot on West Main, which then housed Little India restaurant, seemed the best choice. It did, however, need a major rethink—starting with the layout, which featured a counter across the narrow space, near the front entry.
“It was like, ‘Please don’t come into the restaurant,’” jokes Anspach. To create a more welcoming vibe, Rouser came up with an L-shaped floor plan that draws customers deeper into the space as they begin the ordering process.
Given their excitement around healthy eating, the newly minted restaurateurs wanted their place to convey energy and clarity—“using food as a tool to empower you,” says Anspach. They also wanted to balance a clean, modern look with a “warm, inviting” vibe.
Rouser and his colleagues simplified the storefront, replacing divided windows with large plate glass and bringing the front wall forward to add square footage. When customers enter the restaurant, they find themselves facing a wall of salad greens—a visual cue that no one leaves here without a big dose of vitamins, and a thing of beauty in itself.
While the initial notion was to let the interior be mostly white so that the food provided the color, says Rouser, the team decided that “maybe that was too sterile.” Warm oranges and purples now enliven the space, set off by wooden wainscoting and benches in reclaimed heart pine.
The upstairs seating area formerly felt dark and cramped. The team, which included contractor Martin Horn, refinished floors and tabletops in a lighter hue, removed pendant lighting that broke up the space and painted a large back wall gray to make it seem to recede. A long bench along one wall doubles as storage space, as do the menu boards downstairs.
“Most fast casuals don’t have a great bathroom,” says Anspach. This one does, with a copper bowl sink and a wooden countertop and backsplash. Custom-made wood and metal trash receptacles not only elevate the customer experience in this location, but set a precedent for what the founders hope will be multiple future locations.
One more nice touch: In summer, trees outside the upstairs windows fill the view with their leaves. Seems appropriate for a place that’s all about the greens.