Root Cellar brings general-store ambience, organic produce to New Paltz

Adam Monteverde (center) with Brandon Waaland and Lauren Mias. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The shelves might not be fully stocked yet, but by the time you read this, downtown New Paltz’s latest retail establishment, the Root Cellar, should have opened its doors to the public. “It’s going to be a little organic grocery store,” said Adam Monteverde. “We’re having our first staff orientation on October 1.”

A Hudson Valley native who got his chef’s training at the Culinary Institute of America and cooked in restaurants across the country before opening New Paltz’s popular Mexican Kitchen in 2015, Monteverde has invested considerable sweat equity into sprucing up the space next door, at 15 North Front Street. “Every night I build away,” he said, showing off the sturdy wooden produce bins, counters and shelving that now line the shop’s walls. “It took me a year.” But an autumn opening is timed just right, considering the new establishment’s name. “We’re filling it up for winter,” Monteverde joked.

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His “renovation” of the space strictly maintains the rustic feel of the historic property, whose façade sports a bronze plaque commemorating its original role as the home of the first New Paltz School, the “seed” of SUNY New Paltz. “That’s the coolest part about this whole place,” Monteverde enthused, admiring the front wall that incorporates stone from a demolished 1717 church, the deep built-in wooden window ledges, the distressed wide plank flooring that he refinished himself. He has trimmed the Root Cellar’s new shelves and bins with wood painted matte black to resemble slate, for endlessly reusable chalk-drawn signage. “Since this used to be a school, the blackboard thing I thought would be cool.”

Sustainability is high on Monteverde’s agenda for the new business. He spoke enthusiastically about the current trend in Europe for zero-waste stores: “That’s what I aspire to,” he said. “There’s so much garbage in the world.” Already on display are handsome reusable shopping bags, “made from 100 percent recycled soda bottles” and bearing the Root Cellar logo. At presstime he was awaiting approval of a processing permit from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which will enable the shop to minimize packaging materials by buying produce in bulk and selling it in biodegradable smaller containers.

Paltzonians who have complained for years about the town’s dearth of places where one can buy household staples like socks, underwear and bedsheets along with one’s groceries will be pleased to hear that the Root Cellar is going to resemble a “general store” of yesteryear — “old-fashioned, but with a new twist,” per Monteverde’s description. Brooms and mops will be displayed on an old-time wood-and-wire merchandising stand that he found in an antique store. Alongside a high-tech electronic produce scale is an old-school model made of tin, recently certified to weigh true and legal. Nooks and shelves are set aside for health-and-beauty aids and paper products, pet food and cat litter, along with the fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, oils and vinegars, spices and condiments. There’s an iron rack to display potted herbs and a shelf out by the sidewalk luring in passers-by with seasonal items like pumpkins or mums.

What you won’t find are meat or dairy items; all food items in the shop will be vegan-friendly. “I started eating better six months ago and lost 60 pounds already,” Monteverde said. “I figured I’ve got to walk the walk.” While not quite everything on the shelves will be certified organically grown, “We’re trying to be as local and organic as possible. We’ll carry more than 250 organic items. Everything is responsibly sourced.” Among his sources, “my best friend from growing up” runs Nightshade Farm in Albany County, which is USDA-certified organic.

Equipped with food-preparation tools like a Portuguese wood-fired oven outside the back door, a Vitamix blender on one of the rear counters and a “market menu” blackboard up front, the Root Cellar will serve some to-go edibles like hot soups, juices, smoothies and “power shots,” and there will be a coffee station. “I’m all about the food,” the chef-turned-grocer averred.

According to Monteverde, the general store’s initial offerings will reflect his personal vision, but its stock will evolve to reflect customer ideas and demand. He said that one thing he had learned from his diverse restaurant experience was that “Every time you open the door, the guests have control. If people are interested, we might offer truffles, wild-foraged mushrooms…anything that’s good for the planet. We’re trying to save the world, basically.”

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