Alabama Restaurant has a healthy community mindset and menu

From mission to menu, Taproot Café in Hoover aims to make a difference in its community. That’s because everything here – from the healthy food to the friendly staff to the bright, comfortable surroundings and the people providing local, fresh ingredients – is part of a larger intention.

The cafe serves sandwiches, salads, toast, soups and smoothies, but owners Reggie and Michelle Torbor have a service mission that goes far beyond handing someone a plate of delicious food. and healthy.

Since the very beginning, they have aimed to “love people, nurture them and connect people”. It’s written on the front of their café; it happens every day.

The Torbors opened their local cafe about a year ago – on their wedding anniversary. The health-conscious, community-focused restaurant seems a natural fit for the couple.

Reggie is a former Auburn University football player, NFL linebacker and Super Bowl champion for the New York Giants. These days, he’s a popular motivational speaker and personal development manager at Brasfield & Gorrie. Michelle is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Cardinal Wellness, where she specializes in the treatment of anxiety and trauma. Physical fitness, mental and emotional well-being, and deep spiritual connectedness are part of their daily lives.

Taproot Café serves up fresh, delicious food while supporting Alabama farmers and businesses from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Taproot Café is a way to share it all with others. “We love people and we love food, and we believe the best things happen when you combine the two,” Reggie says.

“I strongly believe there is a connection between what we put into our bodies and how we feel and how our minds and brains work,” adds Michelle. “I know this from personal experience, and the research shows it. … There are a lot of things that we want to accomplish through coffee, but one of those things is to be able to offer good food that nourishes people’s bodies, but it’s also good food for your brain and it helps your mood.

She says her favorite thing about opening the cafe was giving people a trusted place to eat — a place that respects their dietary restrictions or helps them on their personal wellness journeys. “I think that’s what we do best. We want to intentionally know the needs of people who come here, and we want to be aware of those things so that we can provide them with the best product. »

Taproot’s good-for-you foods are prepared daily with ingredients sourced from a trusted group of local suppliers. This was part of the original intent. “One of the most exciting things,” says Michelle, “is that we found not only farmers, but curators of good, delicious produce.”

It’s about sustainability and “doing what we can as individuals to nurture the spaces around us,” says Michelle. The goal of supporting local farmers and manufacturers, she adds, is to better serve the community as a whole. “We can serve local farmers by supplying their products and going the extra mile to do so. It just makes it more meaningful and gives people the opportunity… to eat and support each other in one place.

It’s not necessarily the easiest way to do things for a small cafe, but they’re committed to it. “Playing our part in the sustainability of people, the environment and our local economy is worth it,” says Michelle.

For example, sandwiches like PBLT (pimento cheese BLT) and toast (avocado, caprese, mushroom pesto, and salmon and cream cheese) are made with bread from Birmingham Breadworks. Cajun Cleaver’s three-tip steak pairs with homemade horseradish sauce on the new and popular beef sandwich; turkey from the family-run butcher just up the street in Hoover is layered with cranberries, cream cheese, spinach and bell peppers on the turkey and cranberry sandwich.

You can also get it on the stacked club. Fresh Fruit Smoothies (Pineapple-Ginger-Carrot, Peanut Butter-Banana, Berry Mix, Opti-Greens, or “Build Your Own” from a variety of ingredients) are sweetened with honey from Eastaboga Bee Co. Strawberries come from Smitherman Farms in Clanton. The popular Tomato-Basil Soup and Smoked Mushroom Soup feature vegetables from Hamm Farms. Tender, mixed salad greens are winter-fresh from Southern Organics, where they are grown in aquaponics.

At Taproot, they serve roasted garlic and spicy hummus from Benito alongside fresh pita bread from Birmingham’s famous Joujou’s Pita Bakery. Nancey Legg’s award-winning Better Kombucha is available. They serve fresh lemonade from Just Good Flavor Company, and there’s artesian water from Eleven86.

They offer Secret Bake Shop cookies. The red pepper aioli for the veggie-laden farmer’s grill sandwich; the warm bacon vinaigrette for the spinach salad; and the fresh basil pesto, which goes on several dishes, are all homemade.

Reggie says Taproot Café started as an idea on a dream board. “We thought it was important to have something that grounded us and then we would make all of our decisions from there.”

So he and Michelle wondered, how do they want customers to feel when they walk in? How did they want them to feel when they got out? These questions, says Reggie, “were the starting line” and soon the answers covered a whole wall. “Finally we said, ‘This is too much; let’s reduce it. So what was left? It was something really simple and really clean but real and powerful.

Liked the people. Feed people. Connect people.

“When you walk in, we want you to feel loved,” Reggie says. And Michelle clarifies, “We want people to have an experience when they come here, to feel like they’ve been thought of through the options we provide and just getting a bit of kindness.

Reggie continues: “The second thing we do is feed people, right? … We have simple things, but … we use the best ingredients we can find. We sell sandwiches, he adds, “but this is going to be the best sandwich ever. … That’s our goal, and a lot of it revolves around the hard work of the people who create these products … whether they’re the people who make the sandwiches or the lemonade or the people who grow the fruits and vegetables.

Finally, he says, “You want people to feel connected, don’t you? And who are connected to each other, connected to our people, connected to this place. The goal, he says, is to “build a relationship with them. Whether they work here, whether they are one of our suppliers, one of our partners or whether they are one of our customers who come for lunch.

The name of the cafe is equally significant.

Michelle says, “We had a few names we could go with, but what Taproot provided was most meaningful to us. … So a taproot grows vertically into the ground,” she explains. “It’s the main root, but what it does is it creates space for the other roots to grow from it. And those roots come out and get the resources they need. We wanted to be that for our community. To that end, she and Reggie seek out tasty and nutritious products from Alabama manufacturers and farmers, “bring them to Hoover and hopefully it will help other people to connect with these good resources”.

From the start, it was a family effort. “I’m very proud of my family,” says Michelle. “We worked very hard together. Even before it opened. My boys (they have three) were here to set up the backdrop and help paint. My husband had a big vision. He’s the cook in our house, isn’t he? He’s the one who can put these things together…and then I taste them, and it’s wonderful. … It really feels like a family project – that we were able to have everyone on deck and really create something meaningful.

This idea of ​​teamwork to make the dream work is something Reggie certainly knows first hand. No one, he says, succeeds on their own. “Everyone you’ve ever seen succeeding – anyone – they’ve had help.”

So when asked to join a group of seasoned food professionals from Alabama for a panel discussion at the recent annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which drew visitors from around the world in Birmingham he felt lucky and humbled. He was on stage with Justin Hill of Eastaboga Bee Co., whom he considers a friend. “I wouldn’t know him if we hadn’t embarked on this adventure,” Reggie says, adding that he’s grateful for these new friendships, to be part of our state’s food community.

“It’s invaluable to be in these circles,” he says, “and to hear their wins and losses, to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. You can acquire 20 years of knowledge, you know, in a very short time if you’re willing to shut up and listen.

These types of connections, both personal and within the wider community, can be traced back to the dream board’s mission statement. Reggie says he often sees the Taproot mantra “love people, feed people, connect people” at the cafe.

He mentions a recent Saturday. “There was a family here. They were setting right there, actually, and their children were setting there playing tic-tac-toe. They said, ‘Why did you all put these games on the tables?’ Well, because of that, right? That’s why.’ Their phones were in their pockets, Reggie continues, and they were playing games together. better than a lot of what we’re going through these days. I know it’s not going to happen without intentionality,” he says.

It’s happy encounters like this that matter — especially right now with the supply chain disruptions and staffing issues and pandemic-related issues that all restaurant owners are experiencing, Reggie says. “I try not to let these things overshadow all the blessings that we experience here. You always have that mindset that it’s a blessing and you share it. It stays. It’s not going away.

Follow Taproot Café on Instagram and on Facebook.

Susan Swagler has been writing about food and restaurants for over three decades. She shares food, books, travel and more to www.savor.blog. Susan is a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality.

(Courtesy of Alabama Press Center)

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