Chef James Rigato of The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake — the Detroit Free Press 2012 Restaurant of the Year — is planning to bring his unique, upscale menu featuring local, natural ingredients to Howell.
While it was long thought The Root would open a second location on the ground floor of the Heart of Howell project currently under way on Grand River Avenue in Howell’s historic downtown, in the end, the location just didn’t work out.
The Heart of Howell posted Friday on its Facebook page that “The Root Restaurant will not be moving into the main floor of Heart of Howell. It was a pleasure working with The Root team and (we) wish them the best of luck in their endeavors.”
“(The Heart of Howell) is a great project,” Rigato said, “but the location didn’t make the most sense for us.”
There is another location, though, that will work. Rigato says he’s close to inking a deal, but isn’t ready to spill the beans on where in Howell it is just yet.
“We’ll have something concrete soon,” he said, “but I can’t talk (about it) until it’s real.”
That Rigato wants to open a restaurant in Howell makes all the sense in the world; this is where Rigato grew up, where his restaurant career began.
“To open a restaurant in Howell is my calling,” the Howell High School grad said.
“I worked at Silverman’s (which is a former occupant of the Brunner’s location). I opened Papa John’s. I worked at TW & Friends.”
While his career took him to such places as Shiraz in Bingham Farms, The Rugby Grille in Birmingham, and Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, his heart remains in Howell.
“No one knows this town like I know this town,” Rigato said. “It’s my town, and I believe in it.”
The Howell restaurant will be a “philosophical clone” of the White Lake location, with a comfortable dining room, high-end service and an imaginative menu focused on locally grown, natural ingredients.
In the meantime, Rigato is busy promoting the “eat local” philosophy, and he takes his message on the road as a food evangelist of sorts.
He’s been teaching elementary school students in White Lake about food and helping them create classroom hydroponic gardens. He speaks to classes and community groups on the value of buying local, and the importance of supporting local businesses and growers. Today he helped judge a statewide student cooking competition.
“I am committed to changing Michigan’s food culture,” he said.
You can check out The Root Restaurant & Bar’s menu by clicking here.