Q&A: Greg Steller Of Hoosier Roots

Hoosier Roots owner Greg Steller
An impressive resume of globe-trotting catering ventures prepared chef Greg Steller for his recently opened Pittsboro restaurant, Hoosier Roots. Elevating homestyle comfort food with can’t-miss nightly specials, Steller crafts an experience made even more cozy with community seating and family-style plating.

Why did you decide to base your restaurant in Pittsboro?
I grew up in Pittsboro and have pretty much been here my entire life other than when I was working for race teams. I’ve traveled all over and visited beautiful, beautiful areas around the world. At the end of the day, you want to be where you know you have family and friends. I felt like opening the restaurant in Pittsboro could add something to my community. I could give back while also having a support system to lean on.

How did growing up in Indiana shape your trajectory as a chef?
My whole foundation as a chef is based on growing up in the country. My mom always gardened and cooked what she grew. My dad owns the Noble Romans pizzeria, so I started working there when I was pretty young. Working at restaurants in my country clothes around Indiana is how I learned most of my cooking skills. Going to culinary school helped me progress a little bit as well.

Did you always want to be a chef?
Pretty much my entire life, I knew that’s what I was going to do. Owning restaurants was always a goal. I started working in the industry as a dishwasher and worked my way up to sous chef, then executive chef. That launched my career as a private chef for the racing teams. I was a private chef for Don Schumacher Racing from 2009 to 2012. I would travel around the country with several of the teams he owned, serving thousands of people a week. We would cook a different meal every weekend for big companies and team sponsors. That was a unique experience, and I started my own catering company from there.

You already had a successful catering business. Why open a brick and mortar?
I needed a home base to cook out of so that I didn’t have to keep renting kitchen space. I could also keep employees busy throughout the year since catering is typically seasonal and primarily weekends. Opening the restaurant also qualified me for a liquor license, which allows me to do a full bar at the weddings we cater.

What kind of restaurant did you want Hoosier Roots to be?
I worked on it for the past year and a half. There was already a building at that location. I don’t want to call it a shack, but it was nowhere near where it needed to be. My friends and I took it down to the floor joists and into the studs and built onto the building. The inside is community-style seating with long tables. I built a big L-shaped deck around the outside. I wanted to do family-oriented, shared plates because I thought it was a little different, and restaurants like that were always my favorite growing up.

What is the top priority for running a restaurant?
When I was younger, I just wanted to make amazing food, but I learned that it’s most important to standardize things so that every employee in the restaurant can replicate the dish. It needs to be cooked the same way, every time. You also have to treat the staff well. You can’t run a restaurant if they don’t love what they do.

Tell me about your mobile kitchen.
The 43-foot mobile kitchen was used for one season while I was working with Don Schumacher Racing, but it wasn’t big enough for the number of people we were cooking for. I would always see it parked behind the shop, so when I started my business, I made him an offer on the mobile kitchen. One of my best friends I met while working for the team was a mechanic, and he helped me get it outfitted. In about a month and a half, we literally ripped it apart and rebuilt it. It’s not as big as a semi, but it’s pretty close. It has a couple convection ovens, a five-foot char broiler, a 40-gallon tilt skillet, a couple big double-door refrigerators, as well as a three-compartment sink and a few other items in there.

Is it common for caterers to have this type of equipment when they show up to the site?
I would say it’s pretty rare.