Greg Root always dreamed of opening a restaurant.
“It’s why I got into the business,” said Root, a previous director of Starr Restaurants and an industry veteran. “I used to be a caddie, and the gentleman I used to caddie for the most owned a bunch of fast food restaurants outside the city. And I just fell in love with what he did and how he did it. [It] always was the goal for me.”
Now, Root’s dream has become a reality: he and his partner Nick Kennedy will open a restaurant, Root, next month in Fishtown on Frankford Avenue near Thompson Street.
“It’s nervousness, it’s a lot of work, it’s still a little bit of unknowns, because you’re waiting for all the pieces to come into play and any one little piece can delay you, but it’s really exciting,” Kennedy said.
“You go throughout your career and you think you know a lot, and you’re constantly humbled by what you don’t know and how you learn every day,” Root added.
Kennedy left his job at Scarpetta in New York City and moved to Philadelphia to help open Root, which he said was more affordable than opening a restaurant in New York.
Root also left a job behind—he had worked at Starr Restaurants for 13 years, but left in late January to pursue the opening.
“You leave a job that’s comfortable, and you’re going out on your own and taking a risk,” he said. “But you feel good about it.”
The idea for Root started as only a wine bar, but it’s since grown into a full restaurant.
“We wanted to develop more of an everyday restaurant,” Root said. “To have somebody be able to come in here and feel satisfied with what they’re getting. So if they want to come in for a date, cool. If they want to come in for a glass of wine and a few snacks, cool. We’ll take both.”
But the wine bar aspect will “enhance the area,” Root said, because it’s “another offering, another option for our guests.”
Root also noted an abundance of beer and whiskey in Fishtown.
“There’s really no focus on wine at this point,” he added. “We have wanted to focus in really on the wine and on the food. And I think it’s going to add a nice dining element to the area.”
Stefanilee Mahoney, manager of Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop, which stands next door to the new opening, said she’s excited about the varied touch the restaurant will bring to the neighborhood.
“I think it’s very exciting just to put something a little different in this area,” Mahoney said. “There are a bunch of local bars with different types of food so this will be fun to put in. It’s a little classy, classier than some of the other restaurants around here, so that’s exciting as well.”
“We don’t want wine to have this perception that it’s stuffy or you have to know absolutely everything about wine to enjoy it,” Root said.
He anticipates a good deal of millennial customers at the new opening—and the focus on wine won’t hurt, he said, since millennials are “drinking a lot more wine than ever before.”
The focus on wine affects menu, too. The restaurant’s food will be primarily Spanish and Italian because the cuisines go well with wine.
“[It’s about] the classic areas where wine comes from,” Kennedy said. “The old-world growing areas, Italy, Spain, a little bit of French. We started there because it’s food that can highly go well with wine and they also have some similarity between themselves. We wanted the menu to feel cohesive.”
But there will be some American items on the menu too, and “whatever else fits the mood and atmosphere of the environment,” Kennedy said.
Root said hospitality and service will be an important part of the restaurant experience.
“You try to put yourself in the guest’s perspective. It’s not about what I want to eat, or what I want to cook, or how fancy I can make something, it’s trying to think what is going to make the guest happy, what is the guest looking for, and what adds to the experience,” Kennedy said.