Ilwaco restaurant draws customers with fast and fresh options

Melissa Cutting and daughter Sydney are staying busy even during the off-season at their family's new restaurant, Roots, in downtown Ilwaco.

ILWACO — Melissa Cutting started her juice and salad bar, Roots, toward the end of one of the busiest tourist seasons the Peninsula has ever seen. Now she’s heading into the traditionally slower winter months, but she’s not worried about making it through to next spring.

Cutting, who owns the business with her husband Jeff, opened her doors in early August and, since then, she’s been navigating the challenges of getting a business going. So far she’s managed to gain a following of customers largely through word of mouth, she said, and the business from locals has her confident she’ll make it through to the next busy season.

Since she opened the restaurant, she’s had her fair share of the tourist traffic, but more than half of her business has come from returning customers, she said. And she doesn’t see that dropping off as long as she continues to listen to what her customers are asking for, she added.

“I figured (out) worst-case scenarios and I haven’t really hit that yet,” Cutting said. “I probably will — there will be some bad days, or maybe bad months — but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to make it through the winter.”

Filling a dining niche in Ilwaco was part of her drive behind opening the shop, she said. Roots aims to strike a balance between healthy, made-to-order meals and the convenience of a drive through.

“It’s fresh and healthy. We make most of our dressings, everything is fresh when they order it, we don’t premake it,” she said. “Everything is good and healthy, and it’s a drive through, and they can call ahead on that too.”

The name for the restaurant sprang out of an afternoon spent pulling dandelions out of her backyard, Cutting said. After hours spent pulling the weeds up — root and all — it occurred to her that everything, good or bad, comes from the roots, and she decided then to call the restaurant Roots.

Cutting has wanted to open the business since she moved to the Peninsula in 2008 with her husband, she said. When the bank Melissa worked for relocated to Portland and moving wasn’t a viable option, they decided it was time to move forward with the business. After considering another location, Melissa and Jeff chose the small shop on Pacific Highway, which has hosted businesses including a barbecue restaurant and which previous owners attempted to use — briefly — as a vacation rental.

With business on the uptick, Melissa has been trying to find the balance between ordering too much food and not enough, she said.

“It’s kind of hard to say what I need an order for, because I don’t know how my day’s going to be, and I don’t want any waste,” she said.

Striking that balance has been difficult as business continues to ramp up and the types of customers change with the season — tourists tend to order baked goods, whereas locals opt for the restaurant’s meals, she said. That challenge is further complicated by the fact that Cutting plans to use seasonal items for many of her dishes — which means the menu will be in flux depending on what ingredients are available.

So far, though, she’s managed to avoid having too much waste, she said, and food that does go unused becomes a meal for the family goats.

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