Since Jack Sundell and Corri Bristow-Sundell opened The Root Cafe in 2011, it has proved to be one of the more constantly packed new restaurants in Central Arkansas. The tiny South Main Street building was once the Sweden Creme drive-in. Now it is home to a restaurant that is meeting a growing demand for locally sourced food.
Go there nearly any day for lunch and the odds are good that the place will be full and there’ll be a line out the door — as sure an indicator of pent-up demand as you could ask for.
Is that sort of near-instant success overwhelming?
“Definitely, and in a good way,” Jack Sundell said. “We’re almost two years in and we’re still trying to figure out how to keep up with the demand for what we’re doing and accommodate as many people as possible,” he said, adding that they’d recently shifted the setup inside to help create a better flow.
Nowadays, the term “locavore” is one most folks reading this are likely already familiar with. In 2007, it was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year. Coincidentally, that was the year the Sundells began fundraising to open their local cafe. For those doing the math, yes, it took a few years to open the restaurant. But that was very likely fortuitous timing.
“It’s hard to know, if we had tried to open a place like The Root in 2004, say, if there would have been the kind of response that we’ve gotten,” Jack said. “At this point, certainly, local foods are not a foreign concept in Little Rock.”
No doubt the pioneering Boulevard Bread Co. — where Sundell worked prior to opening The Root — helped introduce folks in the area to the idea of restaurants using local ingredients.
With a couple of exceptions — the delicious Spicy Banh Mi comes to mind — most of what you’ll find on The Root’s menu are familiar dishes done really well. They’re not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel or do a localized take on “molecular gastronomy” (you won’t find anything ridiculous like “a liquefied pork rind reconstituted and freeze-dried into the shape of a lotus and served in a flash-frozen pawpaw,” or whatever). It’s largely soups, sandwiches, salads, fries and bratwursts that make up the bulk of the lunch menu. And the sweets are really good, too. Go ahead and indulge — the lemon bars, cookies or whatever pie or cake is on special is available are absolutely worth it.
“We both grew up with families whose parents cooked a lot at home,” Corri said. Jack too, took inspiration from home-cooking.
“I learned a lot from my mother. She’s a great cook and the best pie maker in the South,” he said. “And certainly a lot from Boulevard, about great ingredients and maintaining the highest standard of quality — what you’re using and how that leads to a great product.”