The Root Restaurant & Bar is the product of Owner Ed Mamou and Executive Chef & Partner James Rigato’s long shared love of food and restaurants. Ed and James’ relationship started in 2007 when James began working as a private chef for Ed’s Royal Oak Recycling company. They spent their first two years together hosting numerous private dining events, daily meals and elaborate holiday parties. During this time, James and Ed made a point to travel to specific locations throughout America to connect with the chefs and restaurants they felt were at the root of culinary relevance. Areas such as Napa Valley, Chicago, San Diego, and Northern Vermont that put the chef in the forefront of the restaurant and farmers on the forefront of their menus. Soon after an inspiring food and restaurant trip to San Francisco they started their first public culinary venture Ripe Catering.
Ripe Catering was fueled with the philosophy of local, seasonal chef-driven catering. Chef James designed the menus for each event to showcase the best of the season always keeping Michigan farmers in mind. During a trip to France, Ed and James spent time on an organic vineyard picking Gamay, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The process of hand harvesting grapes to make into wine spoke to the philosophy behind Ripe Catering and the soon to be Root. The “Earth to Table” approach in restaurants is by no means new. But there has been a disconnect brought on by years of fast food, processed ingredients and corporate agriculture that left the average American restaurant searching for an identity in a sterile and neon lit food scene. For Ed and James this was a sign. At this point Chef James had notebooks and menus full of seasonal, local, and elegantly rustic food that could seamlessly translate into a restaurant. It wasn’t long before the idea of The Root began taking shape.
That following spring, after months of researching cities and touring buildings in Royal Oak they were approached by the City of White Lake to consider opening their restaurant there. Ed had opened a Recycling location in White Lake a few years prior and had developed a good rapport with the Township and City officials. James was raised in Howell, a city similar to White Lake also off of M-59. Both Ed and James saw White Lake as an underserved market. A place where simple, local, high quality food would be well received. After spending some time in the area and getting to know the community Ed and James confidently signed the lease for what would become The Root.
One of the first design elements Ed and James wanted was an open kitchen: a restaurant that would integrate the chef and kitchen into the entirety of the experience. Ed Whitney of E.F Whitney, Inc. was brought on to design the open kitchen concept. Atto Construction was contracted to do the build out. Architect Chris Aller was hired to design the entire space. In order to prepare Chris for the project, Ed and James took Chris on a road trip to Chicago to eat at the different restaurants they admired. Chicago’s casual and local approach to dining with outstanding décor, food, beverage and service inspired Chris in the same way it had for Ed and James.
The next year would be an extremely methodical and driven year for the entire team. Every tile, stone, paint sample, wood panel, counter top, fork, glass and plate were hand-picked by the design team, especially Ed and James. The collected result can be seen throughout the space. From the custom art to the hand tailored carpentry, the open kitchen to the breathtaking bar, no compromises were ever made.
James hand-picked his opening team for their new restaurant, including his Sous Chef and childhood friend, Nick Rodgers. Like James, Nick’s roots are the streets of Howell, Michigan and he will later become The Root’s Executive Chef as James moves on to new projects.
The Root’s menu was inspired by the many years of complete culinary freedom Chef James experienced while working in his kitchen at Royal Oak Recycling. James has been able to develop his style using the freshest ingredients available: from the Ferry Building open air market in San Francisco to the organic CSA Maple Creek Farms in Yale, Michigan. His minimalistic approach comes from his love of the ingredients themselves. After all, the real work is done by nature.
The bar menu is a testament to the classic cocktail, the microbrew and the perfect glass of wine. The wide variety of liquors and liqueurs give the patron endless options to accompany their dining experience. The Root Bar is significant enough to stand on its own as well as echo the fresh and simple approach of the restaurant. Like all of the integral elements of the restaurant the bar is a pillar of our identity.
When asked why we chose the name The Root we simply say that it is our personal and professional goal to find what is at the root of fine dining and strip away all that is not, to “Dig The Root” if you will. This restaurant is special. It is the materializing of a dream. It is a purpose. And we are only as strong as our commitment to the experience for our patrons. After all, there is nothing sustainable for The Root if we do not translate our ideas into their experience. It is our responsibility to be the best restaurant we can possibly be. Excellence is our standard.