San Diego’s Rollin Roots Will Open a Restaurant Incubator and Pizzeria in East Village After Fire at Vegan Food Truck

A new restaurant incubator is opening at the former Big Thyme Sandwich Company address at 807 F Street in the East Village; the yet-to-be-named project, will be helmed by Avonte Hartsfield, whose vegan food truck Rollin Roots was destroyed earlier this month in a fire, will focus on emerging and minority-owned businesses. In the front, it will house a pizza-by-the-slice shop operated by Hartsfield while the remainder of space will be dedicated to the mentorship and development of food start-ups.

While Rollin Roots is known for its “dank a** vegan food,” the pizzeria is currently slated to be vegetarian. “I am still testing things out. I am hoping to keep it fully vegan,” Hartsfield tells Eater, “but it has to be appealing to meat-eaters immediately and not an acquired taste.” Businesses participating in the incubator will not be required to be fully vegan, but at least 60 percent of the menus must be meat-free.

Avonte Hartsfield and team standing around a bar.

Avonte Hartsfield (front) at the Serpentine Cider Tasting Room.
Bree Steffen

Participating companies will take up residence for four to six months, during which they can create a business plan, establish a brand, and raise money to prepare for the next steps while Hartsfield guides them through the challenges of operating a restaurant, imparting his experience in the field and methods for overcoming obstacles. And Hartsfield has overcome more than his fair share this year.

Blackened hearts of palm over greens.

Rich Gal Bowl.
Bree Steffen

A swift series of alarming incidents nearly shut down Rollin Roots permanently this month. On Friday, October 1, Hartsfield says he found the power cord to his truck cut, an annoying but fixable problem. Later that day Hartsfield says his Kearny Mesa office was broken into, his safe stolen, and a noose-like cord looped from his office door.

The next day, Hartsfield alleges he arrived in the morning to find partially burned paper sandwich wrappers scattered inside his food truck in what appeared to be a failed attempt to start a fire. He says he cleaned up the mess and took the truck out on what would be its last service.

That night, the food truck was gutted by a major fire.

Charred and burned food truck.

What remains of the Rollin Roots truck.
Rollin Roots / Facebook

Though Rollin Roots sells food at farmers markets and at the Serpentine Cider tasting room, the truck was the company’s main source of income and core to the opening of the East Village storefront. The truck was a total loss and so was Hartsfield’s spirit — almost.

Words of support poured into the comments of his Instagram post and the GoFundMe “Rebuilding after a series of hate crimes and fire” was started, which to date has raised over $100,000. “The funds will be used to open the location (the East Village incubator), put a down payment on a new food truck, and keep our restaurant afloat” the GoFundMe states. Sycuan tribal officials also donated an additional $20,000 to Hartsfield’s recovery.

Things finally seemed to be back on track. Then, one week later, on Monday, October 11, Hartsfield says a window at his new East Village storefront was smashed. Hartsfield was out of town at the time, but the building’s landlord inspected the site and found a brick which was scrawled with racist language and a black “X” spray painted across another window. After cleaning up the mess, Hartsfield says he started sleeping in the East Village space to protect not only his investment but the investment made by the community and the future of the businesses that will develop in the space.

Smashed window of a restaurant.

Rollin Roots’s damaged East Village storefront.
Rollin Roots / Facebook

While an initial fire and police report found the source of the truck fire was undetermined or accidental and that the attack on the East Village storefront was simple vandalism, Hartsfield is still concerned about the nature of the events. “After some recent pressure the police seem to be doing a better job at investigating and taking a closer look at things,” Hartsfield tells Eater. “I hope they continue to look at these incidences as a hate crime, because there’s no way that these continued attacks are anything other than targeted hate crimes.”

He’s since had high-definition security cameras installed throughout the building so Hartsfield can sleep at home again. He aims to launch the incubator sometime this December, and barring any further strife, have everything fully operational in early 2022.

Exterior view of brick storefront.

Boarded up East Village storefront.
Kelly Bone

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