by J.M. Murdoch

You can’t miss him. Well over six feet in height, black-brown dreadlocks tied back with a kerchief and hanging to his waist, and that contagious, bright smile which makes you feel like his oldest and most trusted friend.

Christopher Holland spies me coming in the door to his new establishment, Taproot Lounge and Café, for our scheduled interview.

“Buddy!” he yells, makes his way to me in two long strides and wraps me up in the best hug ever. (I learned that he calls everyone “Buddy,” but I guarantee it doesn’t make you feel any less special.)

From his unbiased greeting, to his eclectic and fresh menu items, to his grand makeover of what was once Pete’s Place on State Street, Holland has single-handedly started a food culture revolution in downtown Salem.

And he only needed a matter of months to do it.

“Revolutionary” may seem like a lofty description of Taproot Lounge & Café, but after doing some research of my own, I discovered that there are no local equivalents to what Holland’s 8-month-old digs have to offer: only fresh, raw ingredients make up their mouth-watering food that is blissfully affordable. For first-timers, or even repeat customers, I recommend their signature Bowls (any of them), Davatacos, Brussels, their hot wings, the Willamette, Leguma Beach, the Carnival, and their pumpkin avocado milkshake. (Oh, and did I mention they have a full drink menu for liquor and local brews/wines, as well as a raw juice and smoothie bar, local coffee and tea? Yeah. Top that.)

Taproot embodies Holland’s vision of a healthy community—a community that practices healthy eating, healthy habits, healthy engagement. “I never wanted a restaurant,” Holland admits to me. “I wanted a coffeeshop…a café that was lighthearted, but had healthy menu items and an unmistakably genuine soul.”

No muss, no fuss. Holland has done away with the concept of uniforms, replacing stuffy expectations with the freedom of refreshingly comfortable ambiance and character. He has simplified his menu to avoid the complications of being “fancy,” and their smaller kitchen has taught them how to be creative with ingredients and space.

Holland is also passionate about playful yet brilliant juxtaposition, often represented by oxymoronic symbolism in the Café. Barns are dirty, right? Well let’s have a barn for a bathroom, but have it be ridiculously clean and simple. And nobody wants the end pieces of the loaf of bread, right? Well that’s because you haven’t tried “The End of Elvis” sandwich on the menu, which certainly abolishes that stereotype with its unexpected deliciousness. The juxtaposition is consistent, and since it’s creative and intentional, it works.

Taproot also “works” because Holland spent over a decade of his life backpacking around the world, studying people and food wherever he went. He is a student of his own passions, constantly learning and absorbing ideas from his experiences. Holland ultimately decided to create a place that he would like to go to: “I built [Taproot] based on what I wanted when I went out.”  “What kind of environment do I want to be in? What kind of people do I want to be around? What kind of food do I want to eat? What are the things I would like to do? So I put that all in here. This is all me.”

And Taproot remains authentic because of Holland’s model of staying true to himself. That might sound selfish to some people, but the truth is that he’s not trying to do what other people are doing. Thus, by doing his own “thing” he is able to avoid trends and pay attention to the little details that make Taproot so unique.

And his patience is paying off: Taproot is now expanding its hours. Starting Sunday, May 1st, Taproot will be open every day at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast, starting small and simple with breakfast wraps, scrambles, breakfast bagels, parfaits, an expanded tea offering, as well as pre-work grab-and-go options. (And, of course, Bloody Marys.)

“We all just want to eat like how we eat at home,” Holland laughs. “The food you get at a restaurant is never like the food you make at home—you cook what you like, and how you like it, at home. Why don’t we bridge that gap?”

By rooting his business in experience, branching out beyond the norm to provide wholesome nutrition instead of wasteful volume, and by staying true to himself, Holland creates and sustains a rare authenticity in every aspect of the innovative establishment. One man’s vision is changing Salem’s culture, making it easier and easier to support local and live well. (How marvelous is that?) In my opinion, there is no room for disappointment at Taproot; too much thought and hard work has gone into the Café for it to feel forced or half-hearted. Just go—Eat, Drink, Thrive. And don’t forget to give Toph a hug, courtesy of “Buddy.” He’s earned it.