Jason Bendinelli might believe in keeping things simple, but that doesn’t mean he’s laid-back. The entrepreneur and father of two is one of the driving forces behind Back to the Roots, the fair-trade shop and organic tea bar that’s given a new spark to downtown Chelsea since July, and he all but bursts with excitement when he talks about his vision and plans for the future.
Back to the Roots began in Colorado in 2008 as a collaboration between Bendinelli, his wife Ida, and entrepreneur and activist Caleb Lange. Their shop sold handmade fair-trade goods, but Jason and Ida dreamed of running a restaurant as well. Their chance came when longtime friend Jason Povlich (who also owns several Jet’s Pizza shops) suggested they move to Michigan and go into business with him. In a whirlwind of activity over a few months, the new incarnation of Back to the Roots was born.
There’s still a retail shop, with handcrafted clothing and accessories from throughout the world. But the new café is a real treasure, with handcrafted organic coffee, tea and food. Bread from Zingerman’s, milk from Calder dairy, and nearly everything made on-site by chef James Woodward. There’s a sushi bar that’s winning rave reviews. Beginning this month, Back to the Roots will offer a full breakfast, with an expanded menu to come, including a rotating menu of entrees.
“Organic food is what people used to just call ‘food,’” Bendinelli says. “Here, we call it ‘real food.’” He believes the shop can make a difference in his adopted home. “It’s about community,” he says, “about how we can make an impact here. Doing business to create social change — that’s the heart of what we do.”