Common Roots Cafe permanently closed on December 28 after being open for 15 years. The cafe, located at Lyndale Avenue and 26th Street, had a dedicated following due to its community-oriented nature and unique approach to farm-to-table dining.
“I believed our community would rally around a values-driven business as long as we operated with integrity, the food was good, and the space was welcoming,” Common Roots Cafe’s owner, Danny Schwartzman, said in a public statement addressed to the cafe’s customers. “You’ve made Common Roots not just a restaurant but a community.”
Being a sustainably-run cafe was at the core of the business. Its stated vision was to “make every decision based on a commitment to supporting local farmers, operating in an environmentally sustainable way, and providing a living wage and benefits for employees.” The cafe tracked and published its purchases to show where all the food products came from. Common Roots maintained an urban garden and integrated what grew into weekly specials. And the cafe was an early adopter of paid sick time, a benefit that is rare in the restaurant industry.
But, like most small businesses, Common Roots experienced a sharp decline in business throughout the pandemic. The cafe experimented with different ways to get business back. Schwartzman even participated in a “eat local” press conference with the City of Minneapolis last February amidst the Omicron variant surge.
“It was clear it wasn’t working,” Schwartzman said in regards to his many attempts to keep the business afloat. Schwartzman spoke with Southwest Voices on December 31.
The closure of the cafe was abrupt. Two staff members confirmed that they were told on December 28 at around 8:30 p.m. via email and phone calls from Schwartzman. The public announcement went out at 9 p.m. the same evening. Common Roots never reopened.
Former Common Roots employee Audra Johnson left the cafe at 4 p.m. that Wednesday where she had prepped soup for the following day. She said no one told her not to prep the soup.
Schwartzman said that all staff would be paid for the remaining shifts they had worked plus accrued paid time off and Johnson confirmed on January 1 that staff have already received these checks.
The closure of Common Roots happened a week after hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 17 informed Schwartzman that his workers wanted to form a union. Workers cited last-minute and poor communication as a major grievance.
“I wish I could’ve improved communication challenges earlier,” Schwartzman said in response to the workers’ statement.
Schwartzman said that the perception that he closed Common Roots because the workers wanted to unionize “could not be further from the truth.”
“Let me be extra clear — I fully support the labor movement and would have loved being able to run a union business,” Schwartzman said in his public statement. “It would make the business even more of a positive representation of my values. Providing a good place to work and advocating for policies that make those practices more available everywhere has been central to my vision for the cafe since day one.”
In their own statement released on December 30, former Common Roots workers affirmed that Schwartzman was “committed to voluntarily recognizing the union and seemed genuinely excited and ready to collaborate.”
Johnson, a former kitchen lead at Common Roots, said the entire staff was optimistic after these discussions with Schwartzman.
Looking back at Common Root’s place in The Wedge neighborhood, Schwartzman said he was proud of the community that grew in the cafe–The people “who made it their own,” Schwartzman said.
Schwartzman also said he was proud of fostering a staff that “cared about the values of the business” and the regular customers. The workers echoed Schwartzman’s sentiment.
“We are sad to lose the community we had in Common Roots and each other,” the Common Roots workers’ statement reads. “Cheers through tears, everyone. We loved serving you.”
There is an active GoFundMe campaign for the former employees of Common Roots.
Customers who have Common Roots gift cards have a few options. People can buy organic dry goods and spices through Common Roots or be issued a refund. Email Common Roots by January 11 to take advantage of either option.