In early October 2020, former Vesta executive chef Nick Kayser began the rollout for what is set to be a multi-state fast-casual project centered around seasonal produce and sustainably sourced meats and seafood. Beginning with Rooted Craft Kitchen at Avanti Boulder, Kayser and cofounder Scott Ericson then added Del Mar by Rooted at Avanti Denver — debuting the seafood-forward counter after some delay on Saturday, January 23 of this year.
Replacing the stall formerly held by The Rotary, Del Mar will serve a succinct menu of market items — with several overlaps coming from the prototype — a fresh set of pescetarian originals and a rotating roster of zero-proof cocktails.
In addition to Kayser and Ericson — who previously acted as bar manager at Vesta and wine manager at Potager Restaurant and Wine Bar — acting chef Alex Powell and several other members of the team all came from the now-shuttered Secret Sauce centerpiece. Since moving to Denver to attend Johnson and Wales, Powell had stints at Coohills and Max’s Wine Dive before popping up at Vesta nearly four years ago. Del Mar continues a trajectory — both in terms of approach and execution — Kayser began to fully actualize while still in charge of his last kitchen. The adeptness and ease on display clearly benefit from the familiar faces.
“I’m a huge proponent of the Slow Food movement. But I’m a very firm believer that the movement doesn’t have to be slow,” Kayser said of the conjoined concepts. Plans to expand further southwest — with locations in Scottsdale, Austin and, fittingly, Del Mar, California — will hopefully culminate in a local brick and mortar in which both menus will be represented under one roof.
Kayser and company are serious in their locavore commitment, with each iteration sourcing produce from different purveyors. While the first Rooted can rely mostly on Cure, Kilt Farms, Acres at Warren Technical College and the neighboring Boulder Farmer’s Market, Kayser said Del Mar will connect with Altius and other Denver growers. The menu will change according to the season, with a commitment to always delivering the seafood across preparations. Dishes that involve fried, broiled, grilled, roasted and raw presentations will always be represented. The Cornmeal Crusted Calamari ($14) is particularly bright — the roasted red pepper aioli and pickled peppers dance in step with the not insubstantial helping of frisee’s distinct pep. “Wanting to keep it light and fresh is our mantra with the whole Rooted brand,” continued Kayser. The Yum-Yum Tuna Poke Bowl ($14) perhaps even better exemplifies the ethos — the cubes of tuna gleaming from beneath layers of pineapple mango salsa, seaweed salad, furikake and crisp microgreens. As far as the fish itself is concerned, Kayser and Ericson are currently sourcing their entire stock from the Seattle Fish Co.
While such a fast rollout could imply a lack of attention, Rooted’s blistering pace is clearly the product of a well-oiled machine in which the ethics, vision and implementation are all totally aligned. So much so, that the team should have no trouble — with the help of just a few subtle tweaks — in introducing a version anywhere, all towards immediate fanfare.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.