Eat This Now: Vegan Food Truck Rollin Roots Going Above and Beyond
Avonte Hartsfield brings crave-worthy low-tech meat replacers to the forefront of a menu created for a noble cause
March 15, 2020 was the last farmers’ market for Avonte Hartsfield’s The Source. Driven by a passion to build better food-related systems, Hartsfield continued on with his mission by establishing the all-vegan food truck Rollin Roots. The concept incorporates three programs into it’s burgeoning restaurant model:
- Free grab-and-go meals
- Pay What You Can (PWYC), which applies to all entrees and homemade drinks (this will become a more sustainable sliding scale program post-pandemic)
- Full-price sales that helps keep the other programs funded
How It Started
Before the farmers’ markets, Hartsfield worked in Encinitas at the all-vegan restaurant, EVE, and wwas part of the team that opened the second EVE location in Oceanside. That time at EVE turned Hartsfield towards plant-based eating and connected him with local vegans. “I haven't seen a community of patrons as involved with improvement, whether it be themselves, their neighbors, the environment,” he says. “The San Diego vegan community is conscious and definitely working towards great things.”
Hartsfield saw the potential for good in vegan food—good for the animals, the environment, and fellow humans. He also saw space to raise the presence of vegetable and grain-based food up to his own high standards. You’ll find no tech meats on his menus.
The Source pop-up quickly became a staple of North County farmers’ markets. On his off days, Hartsfield distributed food to people who needed it. When Covid-19 hit, he was cut off from customers and the community he served, so he decided to rent a food truck and start something new in order to expand his operation of giving and selling.
A New Vegan Food Truck Star is Born
Rollin Roots hit the streets in August 2020. The opening menu offered many dishes that are still fan favorites, like his prized mac n cheese balls. As the months wore on and Covid-19 case numbers grew, Hartsfield crunched his own numbers and saw a bleak future.
On Dec 13, 2020, Hartsfield uploaded a now-viral Instagram post. He spoke about his struggle and set the stage for a goodbye. “I am not asking for donations or anything in that realm. Just order some dank-ass vegan food. If I don’t happen to survive, then order from another small, local, independently owned business before you order from that megachain,” he wrote.
His words struck a chord and overnight the post was widely shared. “When I made that post, I just wanted a few more customers, hopefully, to stay afloat, and if not simply to share a vulnerable moment and gather support for the other amazing vegan businesses in San Diego as I figured I was already too far in the hole to recover,” he says. “The next morning I opened the doors to the truck with a line that was around the corner!” The craziness lasted a few weeks and the line eventually settled down but his food won over enough people to build steady business.
Since the viral post, monthly sales have increased 300% and he's now been able to give away $18,000 worth of food through the PWYC, free grab-and-go meals, and additional donations per month. Never one to hoard success, Hartsfield opened up his Convoy parking site to other vegan vendors (usually there Friday through Sunday). He also signed a lease to expand the vegan lineup at the Grossmont Center food court.
There is no mistaking Rollin Roots for health food. With the goal of combating hunger, regardless of your ability to pay, Hartsfield’s food is designed to fill you up.
Here “chikun” is battered and fried oyster mushrooms, “beef” is a mix of pulled oats sauteed with button mushrooms (tender richly-seasoned grain nuggets), and “shrimp” are gluten-free battered hearts of palm. In fact, everything at Rollin Roots is gluten-free except for the sandwich bread. Designed for inclusivity, all food is also soy and nut-free.
The menu is structured around four main flavor profiles that are available as loaded fries, rice bowl, or as an overstuffed, french fry-loaded, sandwich.
Daikon love is a feast for the eyes and stomach. Pulled oat beef is layered with pickled daikon and carrots, mint, cilantro, chipotle mayo, sriracha, coconut aminos, teriyaki sauce, fries, cabbage slaw, jalapenos, and tomatoes. It sounds like too much, but it is not.
The spicy boy drenches fried mushrooms in buffalo sauce and is served with slaw, chopped tomatoes, fries, and a drizzle of ranch dressing. The crispy or blacked “shrimp” versions come similarly composed with remoulade and cajun seasoning.
Charred jackfruit captures the sweet and smoky BBQ sauce that tops the Texas in Cali. The jackfruit is balanced with shredded red cabbage, tomatoes, and crips pickles and served with regular or sweet potato fries. Sweet potato fries are available as a substitution on any dish along with the option to add avocado, jalapenos, or fried pickles.
Or, order the fried pickles on their own with ranch dip. The deep fried disks recently joined the menu of sides which includes Rollin Roots’ number one item: the mac n cheese ball. A housemade vegan cheese sauce coats gluten-free pasta, battered and fried, and is then served with buffalo sauce or ranch. They are so popular, the truck frequently runs out, so if you see them, get them.
While committed to keeping food accessible, there are some areas where Hartsfield will not cut corners. All vegetables are sourced from the same farmers he used to pop-up next to or from Specialty Produce. “Our locally sourced produce is an area I would never compromise or change my practices on,” he explained. “I would rather support the businesses surrounding us and not contribute to overfarming, than purchase produce in bulk from elsewhere.”
Hartsfield also only uses compostable packaging. With the intent of ensuring everything Rollin Roots puts out returns properly into the earth, he's searching for a composting facility that can directly handle his volume of scraps and compostable packaging. “Maybe I’ll have to start one myself,” he says before darting away to help a customer.
With the momentum Hartfield has shown in 2021, he most likely will.
Rollin Roots is parked every day at 8040 Armour Street, San Diego, CA 92111
Noon to 9pm, Sunday–Thursday
Noon to 10pm, Friday and Saturday