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Sept. 23, 2021

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Roots reopens in Camas after a yearlong hiatus

Restaurant stays true to principles of service, atmosphere

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Roots Restaurant and Bar reopened in April with little fanfare as owner Brad Root sought to get back into the groove.
Roots Restaurant and Bar reopened in April with little fanfare as owner Brad Root sought to get back into the groove. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Roots Restaurant and Bar has reopened after being closed for more than a year.

Owner and chef Brad Root hasn’t changed anything during this long hiatus. He hopes to give customers the same service, atmosphere, and seasonal menu despite a state-imposed 50 percent capacity limit and problems sourcing food and supplies.

When Root closed his Camas restaurant at 19215 S.E. 34th St. on March 20, 2020, he didn’t expect it to remain shuttered for over a year.

“I had so many plans to reopen. It started with Plan A and ended with Plan Z,” said Root, “but the original plan was always to wait until it’s safe and there’s a path to 100 percent capacity.”

Offering takeout was never an option.

“Takeout is not who we were pre-COVID. It’s not part of our business,” said Root. The core principles of community, service, atmosphere and carefully prepared food don’t translate well to meals in a box.

“My food doesn’t travel. You can’t send out a medium rare steak or medium rare salmon and have it be a Roots experience,” he said.

Roots does have an outdoor patio, but Root felt it was impossible to create a fine dining feel in the open air. Seating customers outside where they’re bundled up in their jackets shivering over rapidly cooling food didn’t fit within his vision.

During the last year, he kept an eye on the spread of COVID-19 and the movement of state regulations. On April 8, the restaurant officially reopened after Root felt COVID-19 numbers were at a good place, people were getting vaccinated, and state regulations might move from 50 percent capacity to full capacity sometime soon.

“Another shutdown or two would put me in jeopardy of not coming back,” he said. “Either way it was a gamble.”

Root said he hasn’t had trouble calling back employees — 29 of his pre-pandemic staff of 33 have returned. Getting basic supplies for his restaurant is a different matter. Sourcing everything from chicken to paper goods has been dicey. The pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, and orders come back incomplete.

Farmers, ranchers, and fishermen from whom he has sourced ingredients throughout his career have struggled through this year of uncertainty. During the chaos of COVID-19, farmers weren’t sure which seeds to plant because the future of their businesses wasn’t clear. They also suffered from labor shortages. The delivery system that brings everything Root needs for his restaurant is still recovering. It’s difficult to run a business when it’s unclear which ordered items will arrive.

Given all these challenges and being closed for more than a year, Root decided to reopen slowly.

“We purposefully chose not to advertise. We needed to get back into the groove. We used word of mouth for the first three days, then when we posted on Facebook it started to snowball,” said Root.

Roots isn’t currently using OpenTable for reservations. At 50 percent capacity, the restaurant needs to have two dinner seatings. OpenTable doesn’t allow business owners to put an end time into the reservation system. Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant. Dinner seatings are at 5:30 p.m. and 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Operating at 50 percent capacity isn’t a viable business strategy. At this capacity, the restaurant is breaking even. The restaurant lost 90 percent of a major source of income — business dinners and meetings. Root hopes COVID-19 infection rates go down, people get vaccinated, and restaurants can get back to full capacity.

“I’ve done this for 40 years. I’m glad to be back doing what I enjoy doing. This restaurant is a labor of love. We’re going to stay true to us,” he said before returning to the task at hand — preparing lobster bisque for Friday service.

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