Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! This week’s special guest is Avonte Hartsfield, owner of Rollin’ Roots food truck in Kearny Mesa. Rollin’ Roots has been serving comfort foods, like loaded fries and sandwiches with deep-fried “shrimp” and Buffalo “chicken” that are entirely vegan, since it opened last fall. Avonte is passionate about breaking the stigma that vegan food has to be expensive, and he started a pay-what-you-can option at the food truck and provides meals for those in need.
Avonte has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 14, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up to management. He grew up in Riverside, and has been living in San Diego for about seven years after residing in Rosarito and Tijuana.
He started serving vegan food at local farmers’ markets after deciding he wanted to eat less meat but couldn’t find anything vegan that he liked. He originally planned to open a restaurant, and the shutdown in March 2020 forced him to transition his business model to a food truck. Avonte doesn’t use any soy-based meat substitutes—he says they contain a lot of allergens, and that eating processed meat alternatives every day is just as bad as eating meat every day.
His menu is also fighting the preconception that “vegan” just means “salad.” Avonte says he’s encouraging people to eat a wider variety of plant-based foods, both for their health and the health of the planet. Part of his goal is to create familiar foods, like deep-fried mac and cheese and po’boys, that have the same taste and texture as their non-vegan counterparts.
Giving back to the community has always been a part of Avonte’s business model, dating back to when he worked at farmers’ markets donating food. After seeing and personally experiencing the financial struggles the pandemic caused, he decided to offer a free or heavily discounted meal as a permanent option at the food truck. He plans to switch to a sliding scale payment system, so that every person who comes up will pay based on their ability, to save face instead of having to ask for the free meal. Avonte readily admits that vegan food is more expensive to make, but he’s still hoping to make it accessible for everyone. You can find Rollin’ Roots parked every day at 8040 Armour Street in Kearny Mesa.
In Hot Plates, Furn Saj, a popular Lebanese bakery and restaurant from LA, is bringing shawarma and saj, a grilled flatbread, to Hillcrest this summer. Resortwear line Tommy Bahama opened its Marlin Bar restaurant-retail concept, which has patio dining, in Fashion Valley mall. Breakers Coffee and Wine is getting ready to open at the Del Mar Highlands Town Center on the mall’s Sky Deck. The owner, Kyle Rosa, grows the coffee at his farm in San Marcos.
In Two People for Takeout / Two People for $50, Marie’s pick is the tropical sangria and five-spice pork belly appetizer at Wet Stone Wine Bar in Bankers Hill. David’s pick is La Justina in Tijuana, where they give you popcorn seasoned with the scrapings off the grill while you’re waiting for your order. At Gihon Ethiopian Kitchen, Troy recommends the tibs, meat stew, and garlic tofu, along with their distinct berbere sauce made with spices prepared and shipped by the owner’s family in Ethiopia. Avonte chose Veg’n Out in Grossmont Center for their vegan burgers, pork belly hot dogs, and kombucha.
Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at [email protected]. See you next week!