Amy Marcus and her husband Timmy are teasing Kansas City.
The pair of local food entrepreneurs recently announced plans to open a restaurant that will solve an almost universal problem: Getting healthy, locally-sourced and reasonably-priced food in a hurry.
“We’ve talked about opening a restaurant for so long, and the ideas have kind of evolved throughout the years,” Marcus says. “I’ve always wondered why it’s so hard to find a fast serve healthy place to eat, especially one that is Paleo-friendly. After doing some research it turns out it’s been on the minds of so many people, not only in Kansas City, but nationally. The need for this is huge, so we decided to go for it.”
What they’re going for is Grassroots Café, a fast-casual restaurant offering made-from-scratch, grab-and-go or sit down dining. “It’s fast food that you can feel good about,” Marcus says. “Food that nourishes your body.”
The Kansas City native hopes to land her dream kitchen somewhere between Brookside and Waldo by Spring 2016. In the meantime, she’s cooking for private clients and continuing to run a professional photography business while stirring up excitement for Grassroots Café. She recently took some time to share her business vision and describe a favorite dish to Recommended Daily.
What stage of the project are you in right now? A few people didn’t understand why we announced in such early stages of development, but for me it was all part of the plan. For one thing, it keeps me accountable to the dream…speaking it out loud, getting it out of my head and approaching Kansas City with it. Another huge part for us in getting the idea out early was that it would allow us to find a following and create community with prospective farmers ahead of time. It has basically confirmed the need and want for our concept. In the meantime, we are hoping to start doing some pop-ups soon.
You seem to be a born entrepreneur. How do you think your previous (and ongoing) business experience will help you with Grassroots Cafe? I definitely come from a family of entrepreneurs, so you could say I was born into it. I’ve learned a lot about owning my own business in the last 10 years. One thing I’ve learned is that I need to be passionate about the businesses I start. I ran a nanny agency right out of high school for a bit, and while it did ok, I wasn’t super passionate about what I was doing and I think that affected it. My two huge loves in life, besides my family, are photography and food. Once I figured that out, it made the decision to open my own photography business easy. Six years later, I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’ve learned a ton, but my bigger dream in life has always been to own my own restaurant.
It’s a dream my husband and I have shared since the very beginning. I’m so passionate about community and the idea of not living life alone; we really want that feeling of family and community I’ve found through photography to spill over into Grassroots. It’s definitely a whole other animal, tackling the dream of starting a restaurant and everything that goes along with that vs a small photography company, but that being said, a lot of what goes into making a business successful are the same.
Tell me about cooking for clients. What do you do? What makes a family a good fit for you? Right now I’m cooking for two families. It really started as a way to test out future recipes for the cafe, but they’ve been really happy with what I’ve put out, so we just kept doing it. It’s kept me really creative, creating new recipes for each two-week option, which I’ve loved. I have had five more families ask me to take them on as clients in the last week as well as two gyms reach out to see if I could start stocking their fridges with healthy grab-and-go options for their clients. I am looking for some commercial kitchen space to rent so that I can accommodate those requests. I’m hoping I can add more clients by late summer.
Do you have a signature dish – or dishes? I would say my signature dish, or at least the favorite, is the Carnitas Soup that I make. It’s three days’ worth of prep work, but it’s definitely worth it.
I start by quick pickling radishes, jalapeños, green onion bulbs and stems and that, along with cilantro, becomes the garnish. I make a 24-hour pork bone broth and combine that with my roasted tomatillo salsa for the broth of the soup. The pork shoulder is rubbed with spices and lime juice and braised for 4 hours before being pulled and added to the soup. The acidity and slight sweetness of the pickled radishes balances out the spiciness really nicely and gives the soup a nice crunch.
I guess I’m on a bit of a healthy Mexican kick lately, because my other favorite thing to make is a Braised Pork Cheek Street Taco. We serve it on a Gluten Free Corn Tortilla or wrapped in Bib lettuce. We buy 1/2 hogs from Pastimes Farm in Lincoln, Missouri, so we try to use all of the parts of the pig. Nothing goes to waste.
You have clearly been on a conscious food journey through your life. How did you get from vegetarian to now focused on organic and paleo? Why does this feel “right” to you? I didn’t go straight from vegetarian to paleo, I had several years in-between after reintroducing meat to my diet. After some research and suggestions from some friends of ours I decided to try it out and I saw so many health improvements that I couldn’t deny that it was a great way to live.
I had been on two expensive thyroid medicines and was able to level out my thyroid function and get off of both of the medicines. I’m not a doctor, and don’t claim that the Paleo diet is a “fix all” solution, but for me it works. I just feel so much better when eating this way. Dairy doesn’t seem to affect any of my issues, so I try to stick to Paleo, but add in some dairy from grass-fed cows. I’m not perfect, and yes, I eat gluten occasionally because I’m human, and sometimes pizza is needed.
How will you and Timmy be sharing responsibilities through Grassroots Cafe? I’m lucky to be married to someone who has years of experience managing both fast serve, which is what we see Grassroots Cafe being, as well as sit down restaurants. He will most likely take on that role. He’s also a great cook, though, so I imagine he will be in the kitchen with me at times as well. The menu so far has been a team effort, and his experience with food costs has been helpful in price setting. We plan to hire an additional manager as well as a small team.[Images via Grassroots Cafe]