Desert Roots Kitchen has been open in downtown Tempe for 11 years now, but in the beginning, the restaurant was never planned. The owner, Leslie Robin, never thought she would open her own restaurant, but she said that in the end, “divine alignment” was a big part of what made it happen.
Located in the Mill Avenue Shops Courtyard is a locally owned restaurant, Desert Roots Kitchen, which serves exclusively vegan food and changes their entire menu every day.
The restaurant is small, only 419 square feet total according to the owner, with no indoor seating. The space does include outdoor seating for its customers, surrounded by plants and water features.
“I call it a hidden oasis,” Robin said. “People call it a hidden gem.”
The owner said she makes sure to leave the front door of the restaurant open to create a friendly and inviting atmosphere for all who visit.
Kendyl VanderVoort, an employee at Desert Roots Kitchen, said she wasn’t necessarily looking for a job before starting at the restaurant, but that it felt like a job for her soul and a place to express her creativity.
“I felt so at home immediately, and this place has that effect on a lot of people,” VanderVoort said. “I just felt so drawn and so called, I guess you could say.”
Jax Vega, another employee at Desert Roots Kitchen, said that the emphasis on community is one of the best parts of working at the restaurant.
“Everyone that comes in is like really chill and sweet,” Vega said. “That’s honestly probably my favorite part, is getting to meet all the people in this community.”
The space where Desert Roots Kitchen is located was originally a deli. The current owner even worked at the deli on and off for nine years before it closed.
On Jan. 22, 2012, Robin had just quit her job when she received a call that same day from the owner of the deli asking her to come back to work at the shop. Once the deli officially closed not long after, the property managers called her in to invite her to open a restaurant of her own in the vacant space.
“You know, people say everything happens for a reason,” Robin said. “My motto is: everything aligns as it shall. Because you don’t necessarily know the reason.”
Robin said she didn’t know when she came back to work at the deli once again, that this time it would lead to her owning a restaurant of her own. But, she said when the property managers brought it up to her, she didn’t even have to think about it.
The menu at Desert Roots Kitchen changes every day and is always vegan.
Robin said the restaurant emphasizes real food first, and that’s what their regulars keep coming back for. She said their vegan menu introduces and educates those who don’t eat vegan, but that they’re not here to preach it either.
Even though the menu does change each day, Robin said there is a general structure to it. There are always different variations of a wrap, pasta salad, green salad, hummus, bean dip, and treats.
Not only does the menu change continuously, but there are also no recipes, no measuring cups, and many of the menu items are made and decided upon depending on what’s available.
When asked if creating a menu like this is ever difficult or if she ever runs out of ideas, Robin said no.
“I actually thrive on not knowing what to make,” Robin said. “That’s another motto we have here: we don’t know what we’re making until we’re making it.”