Nikita Thomas is serious about nutrition. As the sole owner of both fast-casual vegan restaurant Rooted AF and plant-based herbal remedy company Gods Green EarthRX, Thomas dedicates nearly all of her time to spreading the good word about how eating the right food can improve your mind, body and spirit.
Rooted AF is her newest venture—it’s also her first time running a restaurant. With a background in nutrition, business ownership and management at a fitness company, Thomas had all the tools she needed to begin her journey as a restaurateur.
“I already knew how to make a concept profitable, and how to build teams,” Thomas says.
Her team-building skills proved especially important. Thomas has managed to keep a happy staff and low turnaround in a turbulent industry.
“You can always tell how good a place is by their turnaround,” Thomas explains. If the staff at a restaurant never seems satisfied, there are likely underlying issues with the ownership, management or procedures, which doesn’t inspire confidence in Thomas’s eyes.
“The team is the heart,” she adds.
Satisfy Your Hunger
The menu at Rooted AF is inspired by what Thomas calls “American favorites,” but she doesn’t just mean burgers and banana pudding (although, you can’t go wrong with either at Rooted AF). She also leans into cultural dishes inspired by every flavor in the melting pot.
The SLAP Burger, for example, is a falafel burger inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Available on a brioche or gluten-free bun, this vegan burger is packed with flavor. It’s topped with tomato, mixed greens, a mouthwatering chipotle crema and pickled red onions. The menu also features vegan takes on a New York-style chop cheese, a jerk Philly cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken wrap and loaded sweet potato—a favorite for many gluten-intolerant diners. The signature dish, though, is a traditional Spanish empanada.
“You can’t come to Rooted AF and not have an empanada,” Thomas states. “It’s what we’re known for.”
She’s not over-selling it. Thomas whips up Spanish-style empanadas with Beyond Meat and vegan cheese. Each bite is packed with the perfect blend of traditional Spanish spices. If you’re feeling adventurous, Rooted AF also offers a fusion version of the empanada, stuffed with a curry chickpea filling.
Equally impressive is the menu of desserts, cold-pressed juices, smoothies and more. The banana pudding is Thomas’s go-to, but the vegan carrot cake is also a must-try.
Nourish Your Soul
While the flavors at Rooted AF just might make you a believer in vegan cuisine, that’s only one piece of the puzzle for Thomas. The big picture is about educating people on healthier lifestyles and helping them access the tools they need to get there.
“Food is just an extension of the goal,” she explains.
It’s with this goal in mind that Thomas sells her herbal supplements, gummies and more at Rooted AF. It also influences the choices she makes on the menu.
“Most restaurants are opened by chefs,” she says. “I’m a nutritionist. My lens is different.”
A chef can, in good conscience, feed patrons whatever tastes the best, as long as it’s well-executed, but it’s not always that simple for Thomas. Her outlook and education prevent her from cutting corners on nutritional value and quality, and it shows in her food.
“That’s also why we use Beyond meat,” Rooted AF team member Kam adds. “Most vegan and vegetarian restaurants use Impossible, because it’s cheaper.”
Impossible meat also includes unhealthy additives and genetically modified ingredients— two nonstarters for Thomas as an award-winning nutritionist and an advocate of clean and healthy living.
“I may not always cut the fry right,” explains Thomas. “But it’s going to taste good, and it’ll be healthier than they are over there.”
It’s safe to say that her patrons don’t mind the lack of professional culinary background. With high-quality ingredients, great flavors and a health-conscious vision, Thomas has certainly discovered the “secret sauce” when it comes to great fast-casual vegan food. Plus, the nutritionist-turned-restaurateur is learning every day.
“I jump and grow my wings on the way down,” she adds.