Faced with months of crippling road-closing construction outside her five-year-old bakery in downtown Massillon last year, Jamie Anania decided to take a big plunge.
She used that downtime to convert her Sugar Mama’s Bakery at 44 Lincoln Way E into The Root Vegan & GF Cafe, something she’d long dreamed about. The cafe, like Anania’s own diet, is 100% free of animal products and uses organic produce and non-GMO products.
Here, Anania talks about her food and why it is attracting lots of enthusiastic repeat customers.
Q. Are you surprised by the quick success of your cafe?
A. “I guess I’m a little shocked. I didn’t realize there were so many vegan people in Massillon and around this area. Saturdays are usually standing-room only. It was a huge gamble, but when the streets closed and our income went to nothing, I figured it’s either going to be this or I’ll get a job at a factory.”
Q. Having eaten at The Root and talked to some customers, it seems like the key is simply making vegan food taste good.
A. “Everyone always expects vegan to be crunchy, flavorless and kind of blah. I don’t think you should have to sacrifice flavor for health when you can have the whole package. People eat with their eyes so it should be beautiful as well as taste good.”
Q. You serve things like Reubens and sausage sandwiches that use jackfruit instead of meat. How do you make that work?
A. “What we do is mimic foods using plant-based options. The jackfruit is a big hit. I use it for turkey, I use it for chicken, I use it in the Reuben. It’s very versatile, and like tofu, it will take on the flavors of whatever you’re cooking it with. Our BBQ jackfruit wrap is extremely popular, which is a big ol’ tortilla wrapped with organic greens, sauteed peppers and onions, (dairy-free) cheddar cheese sauce and our homemade Southwestern avocado dressing.”
Q. Many vegans seem to miss cheese the most of all. What can you tell me about yours?
A. “When you first start venturing into the non-dairy world, dairy-free cheese can turn people off real fast because that’s their one vice. We kind of just ventured into using different products and altering our recipes to come up with the perfect creaminess of cheese without dairy, lactose and hormones. We make our loaded fries, chili fries and nachos with plant-based cheese sauce. It’s a cleaner version of naughty food.”
Q. Do you have non-vegan customers?
A. “We’ve had quite a few people who are not vegan come in to try it out and they find out they don’t miss meat. Some people are just trying to clean up their diet. Some people appreciate diversity in food.”