By Len Lear
When Greg Root, 38, was growing up in Oreland in the 1990s, the odds that he would become a successful restaurateur were probably about the same odds that he would become a quarterback for the Eagles.
But the Upper Dublin High School student (he would graduate in 1996 and go on to graduate from
Indiana U of P in 2000) got his
first job as a caddy at Manufacturer’s Country Club, “which was convenient as my parents’ house backed up to the 15th hole.”
In his sophomore year, he caddied for Steve Lewis, who owns roughly 30+ Burger Kings in the Philadelphia suburbs. “I decided quickly after caddying for him,” Greg recalled last week, “that I was going to be in the restaurant business.
“He taught me an incredible amount about the business and the people involved. We are still in touch often, which I truly value.”
Root proceeded to get a job in the restaurant business the old-fashioned way.
He responded to an ad in the Philly Inquirer jobs section and “actually faxed my resume in!” His starting job was as manager at Jones, a downscale restaurant at 7th and Chestnut Streets that is owned by the elite Stephen Starr Organization.
Greg obviously worked his appetizers off, you might say, because he wound up as director of operations for 13 years for the Stephen Starr Organization. What was the most important lesson he learned there? “That details and people are everything,” he said.
Like so many other salaried workers who long to spread their wings and fly away from the nest, Greg eventually decided to walk out on the high wire and open his own restaurant, eventually settling on a location in Fishtown.
“I fell in love with Fishtown in 2011 when I opened Frankford Hall for Stephen Starr,” said Greg. “The community, the physical spaces available and the potential are unmatched. My partner, Nick Kennedy, and I visited the space and said, ‘Let’s do a restaurant and wine bar!’”
Thus, Root took root with Root, which opened in March of last year at 1206 Frankford Ave. in a building that had been vacant for five years. Root’s equal partner on the premises is chef Nick Kennedy, 36, a Maryland native who formerly cheffed at some upscale restaurants in New York, and his business partner is Nathalie Richan, owner of the very busy Café La Maude in Northern Liberties.
“When we opened,” Root said, “many restaurants and bars in the area were focused on beer, and we wanted to offer something different for this gentrifying neighborhood … but we see ourselves as both a neighborhood restaurant and a destination restaurant.”
In the past few years Fishtown, a labyrinth of narrow streets and rowhouses just north of Northern Liberties, has been transformed from a virtual graveyard to a buffet of new restaurants. The name comes from the area’s history as the epicenter of the region’s commercial shad fishing industry.
This once-unsightly area now features lots of urban pioneers, new music venues and art galleries, jacked-up rents and terrific new restaurants where shot-and-beer corner bars once dotted the horizon. Frankford Hall, Fette Sau, Pizza Brain, Loco Pez, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Helm, Kraftfork, Street Side and Heffe Tacos are all fairly recent restaurant newcomers.
How is Root going to stand out in this unbelievably competitive restaurant environment? “Consistent execution of food and beverage and unmatched hospitality,” said Greg. “It’s a marathon.”
Root is a casual, dimly lit 60-seat restaurant and wine bar with a menu meant for snacking and sharing or a complete dining experience of Spanish, Italian and American cuisine. There is a decent selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle, cocktails and craft beers by the bottle.
What is the best advice Root ever received? “‘Don’t mess it up.’ (Mess was replaced with the ‘f’ word!)”
If Greg could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? “Thailand. My wife is Thai, and we hope to retire there! We had an incredible two weeks there in 2009. Amazing culture, food and people.”
What does Greg like to do in his spare time? “Spare time isn’t in my vocabulary! My wife and my kids are #1, though. Whatever they need, I’m there.”
If Greg could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be? “Jack Nicklaus.”
For more information, call 215-515-3452 or visit www.rootrestaurant.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org