Studying anthropology might seem far removed from the restaurant business but for CSU alumna Julie Hutchison, studying humans and their societies was a perfect primer for creating a community-focused eatery that caters to the health and wellness of its customers.
Hutchison co-owns the Root Café, a vegetarian eatery in Lakewood, with partner Bobby Breitenstein. On top of being a prominent destination for locally sourced, organic cuisine, the café has become a community center, hosting music events, poetry readings, art exhibitions and local neighborhood meetings. Its growing reputation as a Lakewood staple led to the restaurant being selected by MSNBC as the host for one of its live broadcasts during the 2016 Ohio Presidential Primary.
“Bobby and I are both passionate about our community and for us the Root Café is much more than just a restaurant,” Hutchison says. “It is a place where people from all walks of life can come together, share a meal, a conversation and experience the best of what a multicultural society has to offer.”
Hutchison first got into the restaurant business while working her way through CSU. She started at Phoenix Coffee Company as a barista then ultimately become the store manager. When the owner decided to sell in 1999 he offered Hutchison the first chance to take over the business. She agreed and became the full time owner while still going to CSU part time, completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology with a minor in dance in 2005.
“I was not planning a career in food service but I really enjoyed the job and when the opportunity came my way to run the business I decided to take it,” Hutchison adds. “And the idea of selling coffee, which is such an important cultural phenomenon in numerous societies, really made sense to me from an anthropological perspective.”
Hutchison would bring Breitenstein on as a partner and the two would expand the business over the next decade before deciding they wanted a larger restaurant with a different focus. This led to the opening of the Root Café in 2009. The restaurant features a full vegetarian menu and also includes a community garden which is maintained by café employees and produces ingredients used at the Root. The café was named the best vegetarian restaurant in the region by the Cleveland Hot List in 2015.
Hutchison has also remained highly committed to promoting the arts as a community resource, a passion that was enhanced during her time on campus by CSU dance professor Lynn Deering, who remains a friend and mentor. She currently leads a cultural exchange between U.S. and Cuban artists and will be taking a group of musicians and dancers there in May of 2017 for the Guarapachanga Music Festival in Pinar Del Rio.
Hutchison says that her father wanted her to get a business degree and was uneasy when she decided to major in anthropology and dance in college.
“Now that I am a pretty successful businesswoman he thinks it worked out ok,” she jokes.