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Roots Restaurant
Blending Two Cultures
in Downtown Jonesboro

by Cody Moore, photos by Kayla Broadway

Jonesboro residents Karl and Paula Lowe had aspirations to open their own restaurant after seeing a need for more diverse dining options within the city of Jonesboro. Last August, the husband-and-wife duo opened Roots, a modern restaurant that blends both Southern and Ecuadorian flavors.

Before opening Roots, Karl, a native of Bay, and Paula, a native of Ecuador, spent years of their lives perfecting their crafts within the food industry.

Karl, who has more than 25 years of experience within the industry, graduated from Arkansas State University with a business degree before moving to Florida to obtain his culinary arts degree. After graduating, Karl worked an array of jobs within the industry before moving to Ecuador in 2010 to open his own food establishments. It was there that he met his wife and business partner, Paula.

“I opened five restaurants down in Ecuador, and Paula was actually one of my executive chefs,” said Karl. “Each one of my units in Ecuador had a chef inside, and Paula was by far the most talented chef that I had.”

Paula, who attended a culinary arts school in Ecuador’s capitol, Quito, has more than 10 years of experience within the food industry; she worked several positions prior to moving to the Unites States, including server, restaurant manager and sous chef, before working her way up to an executive chef title.

After 10 years of working alongside each other and a year-and-a-half of dating, Paula decided to visit Karl’s hometown with him in 2017.

“Karl officially decided that he was moving back (to Arkansas), and I was planning on taking a vacation since I had never traveled around the South before,” said Paula. “Karl proposed to me in December of 2018 in Jonesboro. … We got married that same month and got pregnant with our son shortly after.”

After making the decision to remain in Jonesboro in order to be close to Karl’s family and to raise their young son, the couple knew that they wanted to put their culinary expertise to good use. They realized they had an opportunity to bring a new, diverse food experience to the Jonesboro community, and the idea of Roots was officially born.

“The inspiration behind Roots is nostalgia,” said Paula. “Food brought us ‘back home’ in moments of homesickness. … Also, traditional food from my country and comfort food from the South share multiple ingredients, which was key in creating Roots.”

Roots, which opened its doors in August 2019 in Downtown Jonesboro, provides a modern atmosphere unlike any other within the city. The local restaurant offers seasonal menus that include an array of handcrafted dishes that are the perfect blend of both southern and Ecuadorian flavors.

“We wanted to be a modern, upbeat place where guests can experience fine dining like you will in any big city,” said Karl. “Most of all, the ever-changing menus make Roots a place where guests can experience something new all the time.”

Sourcing products locally and using products that are in-season are extremely important to Roots and its overall mission. Making the decision to introduce new menus for each season helps the couple create dishes that are as fresh and as delicious as possible.

“We are not a farm-to-table establishment, but we are a community-driven restaurant,” said Karl. “With that being said, we focus on sourcing locally as much as we (can when) available. Seasonality is very restrictive, but this forces us to be more creative with every menu we do. It is important to use seasonal product, from fish to fruit to vegetables.”

Roots sources a majority of its products from local farms and businesses such as Newman’s Farm in Myrtle, Mo., American Block Meats & Steaks in Little Rock, Sanctified Soil in Poplar Bluff, Mo. and Scatter Creek Berries and Produce in Paragould.

“The variety of farmers around here (is) outstanding, and we are very proud to be able to use their product and put an emphasis on them,” said Karl.

“Our farmers will always be our first source for local product,” added Paula. “We also use an array of Ecuadorian products in order to offer a beautiful blend of cuisine.”

Among the most popular dishes at Roots are the Hog and Hominy, a classic Ecuadorian dish that includes sautéed hominy, sweet corn, crunchy pork bites, pork crackling, pea salad, cilantro, avocado cream, aji sauce and Cajun spices; the Llapingacho, which includes potato cakes and andouille sausage topped with a fried egg, avocado cream, beet gel, pickled onion and spicy peanut sauce; and the Hornado, which includes a Newman’s Farm pork leg and pan-fried potatoes topped with pink sea salt, hominy, avocado cream, pork crackling, pickle and ashes.

“Meli’s Bananas, a dessert from Paula’s mom, is also a must-try,” said Karl. “Delicious flambé bananas served with chocolate ganache and peanut butter ice cream that is made in-house.”

Each of these dishes has reoccurred on the summer, fall, winter and spring menus due to their immense popularity.

Though Roots’ anticipated spring menu was slated to premiere in March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the establishment to hold off on the new menu. Roots was finally able to introduce the spring menu last month when restaurants were able to re-open their dining rooms at a limited capacity.

“Our spring menu is very fresh and inspired on seasonality from Arkansas, of course,” said Karl. “A lot of the menu is very vegetable and fruit oriented, but there is a little of everything for everybody.”

“A very traditional dish from the spring menu is our Smoked Cariucho,” said Paula. “We married Southern techniques with a traditional chicken dish form Ecuador, served with creamy peanut potatoes, sweet plantain, queso fresco and pickled relish. But, our Berries Bourbon Vanilla dessert is just something you can’t miss.”

Other must-try items on Roots’ spring menu are the butter-fried ribeye with white cheddar mash, fried cauliflower florets and chili flakes; and the Tuna Ceviche appetizer, yellowfin tuna topped with strawberry and roasted beets relish, cucumber tartar, avocado cream, salprieta and cilantro. The full spring menu is available for public viewing on Roots’ website.

Because of the pandemic, Roots, like many other local restaurants, had to introduce new forms of income, as well as other services, in order to stay afloat.

“We were focused on adapting as fast as we could due to recent events,” said Karl. “We switched to pick-up and delivery, which was hard since our experience is not easy to reflect on a to-go order. We also introduced our Roots Market and our #Yosoy ice cream line, which was an independent project but now is attached to our Roots brand.”

The Roots Market includes the #Yosoy artisan ice cream line, baked goods, farm fresh vegetables and Roots’ signature fruit juice mixes. The #Yosoy ice cream line, which translates to “I am,” is available in several flavors, including caramel popcorn, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookie and a traditional Ecuadorian flavor, Helado de Paila.

“We are very proud of our artisan ice creams and fruit mixes from our signature drinks,” said Paula. “We not only wanted to push our artisan ice creams and fruit mixes, but also give our customers the possibility of ordering our community bag, which includes fresh items from our farmers.”

All items that are included in the Roots Market can still be purchased and customized online for in-store pick-up. Roots is no longer offering its delivery service, but customers can still place lunch and dinner orders online for pick-up or visit the establishment to enjoy a dine-in experience.

Due to current health and safety guidelines and restrictions, Roots is offering limited seating for guests who choose to dine-in. Guests must wear a mask and be temperature screened to enter, and all tables are placed six feet apart. The same health and safety guidelines apply to all Roots employees, as well.

“We have received support from a lot of people within the community, our regulars, our farmers and friends who have continued to order from us,” said Paula. “The community has helped us in ways we can’t describe, and for that we will be forever thankful.”

“We still have a long way to recover from the pandemic, but we believe Roots will keep evolving,” said Karl. “We will continue to offer an amazing fine dining experience and ever-evolving menu full of tradition, culture and family recipes.”

Roots, located at 303 South Main St., is currently open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight. For all current updates, new menu announcements or to order online, find Roots Restaurant on Facebook and Instagram, visit rootsrestaurant303.com or call (870) 336-1212.