The Root Restaurant & Bar buying Howell Theater for new location

RootArtThe Root Restaurant & Bar — the Detroit Free Press 2012 Restaurant of the Year — is buying the Howell Theater in downtown Howell.

Chef James Rigato said the movie theater, which has been bank-owned, will continue to operate as a theater for a couple months.

Then, the work begins. The team that designed The Root restaurant in White Lake will go about the business of transforming the theater.

The goal is to create an interior similar to the White Lake location: comfortable, approachable, casually upscale.

Chef James Rigato (photo courtesy
Chef James Rigato (photo courtesy

“We’re making a significant investment; our goal is to make it a destination for dining and entertainment,” Rigato said. “We want to operate it seven days a week. We’ll have a catering room, a late night bar. It will be multi-faceted.”

And the marquee?

“We have every intention of keeping the marquee,” Rigato said.

That marquee is a part of his childhood, which was spent in his mother’s house on Clinton Street.

“I could see the marquee from my bedroom window,” Rigato said. “I grew up with the theater. I saw ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘Robin Hood’ there.”

A Howell High School grad, Rigato began his restaurant career washing dishes at Silverman’s (formerly located in the Brunner’s building). He opened Papa John’s and worked at TW & Friends. While his career took him to upscale eateries like Shiraz in Bingham Farms, The Rugby Grille in Birmingham, Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, and his own award-winning The Root, his heart remained in Howell.

Now he’s proving that you can, indeed, go home again, and it’s a huge thing for Howell’s downtown, one of a handful across the country to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Much like the Common Grill in Chelsea and the French Laundry in Fenton, The Root will put downtown Howell on the gastronomical map, and become a destination for diners in search of dishes creatively prepared with local and natural ingredients.

Anyone who has eaten at The Root in White Lake, like Howell City Manager Shea Charles, has an idea of what’s in store.

“Obviously, we’re very excited,” Charles said. “While it didn’t work out with Heart of Howell, we’re glad that this amazing restaurant is still coming to downtown Howell.”

For me, I am excited about what The Root will do for my beloved downtown. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I am also giddy knowing that the best French onion soup I’ve ever had will be within walking distance.

For those who’ve not been lucky enough to dine at The Root yet, click here for the Freep’s video of the restaurant, which was produced after it named the young eatery its 2012 Restaurant of the Year.

In addition to creating a wonderful place to enjoy good food, Rigato keeps busy as an “eat local” evangelist. He teaches elementary school kids about food and helps them create classroom hydroponic gardens. He’ll talk about the value of buying local, natural ingredients, and the importance of supporting local businesses and growers to anybody who asks.

Today, though, he’s simply excited about opening a restaurant in his hometown.

“The Howell area has been underserved for decades,” Rigato said. “No one knows this town like I know this town.

“It’s my town, and I believe in it.”

Want to check out The Root’s menu? Click here and prepare to drool.

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About Maria Stuart 122 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.


  1. Very sad to see the theatre go, but very happy to see a great new restaurant come to town – we need one! The auto parts store nextdoor to the theatre would make an awesome restaurant! Large space, wood floors, even has a balcony with windows! Just sayin…..

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