Selma’s Bloodroot Turns 40

In January, hundreds of local women protested the new president. Earlier this month, some skipped work to demonstrate the impact of “A Day Without a Woman.”

If they wanted a place to organize, strategize — and eat a delicious, healthful meal — they could have headed to Bloodroot.

For 40 years, the Bridgeport restaurant/bookstore has been a feminist hangout and outpost. It was there at the start of the women’s movement. It nurtured the hearts, minds and stomachs of generations of activists.

It’s still there. But how many people know of Bloodroot’s Westport roots?

In 1961, Selma Miriam was a self-described “mama with 2 kids.” A landscape designer working with the famed Eloise Ray, her one requirement for a house was that it have a garden.

She found a perfect spot on Hiawatha Lane. Nearly 60 years later, it’s still home.

During her first decade in Westport, Selma got involved in the burgeoning women’s movement. She was president of Westport’s NOW chapter. So was Noel Furie.

It was the 1970s. Women’s bookstores were opening around the country. Selma and Noel liked the idea.

They also liked to cook. The idea of a vegetarian restaurant/bookstore was born.

She and Noel looked at locations along the Post Road, and in Wilton. Everything was ugly.

Then they heard about a plot of land in Black Rock, right on Burr Creek. There was room for a garden. Birds flitted. The light was natural.

Bloodroot is tucked away, off a residential street in Black Rock.

Selma went to nearly every bank in Fairfield County. None would give a woman a mortgage — though they never said it quite that way.

Finally, Harvey Koizim — the founder of Westport’s County Federal Bank — agreed to a 10-year balloon mortgage.

Bloodroot opened in 1977, on the spring equinox.

Selma liked the idea of women working together, sharing common wisdom. She did not like the idea of women serving anyone. To this day, diners give their orders at a window by the kitchen, then pay. When meals are ready, their names are called. When they’re done, they bus their own dishes.

The menu, the kitchen, and Noel Furie.

It took a while for people — especially men — to understand Bloodroot. Salesmen would arrive, look at Selma, and ask for her husband.

Irene Backalenick wrote about Bloodroot for the New York Times. When an editor called to arrange a photogapher, Selma asked for a woman.

The paper sent a man. He used a fisheye lens, which Selma says “made all our heads look swollen.”

The other day — for a story on Bloodroot’s 40th anniversary — the Times sent another photographer. She was all over the place, taking hundreds of shots. Her husband — a Times opinion page editor — simultaneously served as her assistant, and held their 8-month-old baby.

“What a difference!” Selma says. “And it all seemed so natural.”

Selma Miriam, during a quiet moment at Bloodroot.

During its 40 years, Bloodroot has employed countless people: high school and college students, dropouts, middle-aged, part-time and full-time. All are women.

Several current employees come from Mercy Learning Center, Bridgeport’s literacy and life skills center for low-income women. They’re Haitian, Ethiopian and Congolese. “Such wonderful people,” Selma says. “They have great cooking knowledge. And an incredible work ethic.”

Bloodroot’s Ferris Avenue location — in the middle of a residential neighborhood — is not easy to find.

“We don’t get walk-in trade,” Selma says. “People have to find us.”

But find Bloodroot they did. They came for the food and/or the books. They stayed for the community.

One big change has been in the bookstore. In the beginning, Bloodroot played a huge role helping women find feminist books and magazines.

Over the years, two factors — Barnes & Noble, then Amazon — have destroyed women’s bookstores. (Including, ironically, the Amazon Cooperative in Minneapolis, the first feminist bookstore in the country.)

The bookstore section of Bloodroot.

Now, Selma says, she sells one book every couple of weeks. She took up the slack by publishing cookbooks. There have been 4 so far, plus a 2-volume “Best of Bloodroot.” There are calendars too, with 13 new recipes a year.

Of course, you don’t have to buy her recipes. Ask, and she’ll tell you. “The more we share with each other, the better we’ll all be,” she says.

At 82, Selma still loves Bloodroot. She is especially excited about the menu.

She continues to develop new dishes. She’s using more plant-based food, and has introduced vegan cheese, butter and whipped cream to diners.

The warm, welcoming interior of Bloodroot.

Three things keep Selma going. “The place is beautiful. I love to cook. And I love the diversity of people,” she says.

Her customers are loyal. (And — despite her initial belief that men would  not come — they include both genders.) The staff, in turn, feels a strong connection with their diners.

Selma has big plans for Bloodroot’s 40th year. She’s looking back by playing women’s music from the 1970s and ’80s.

And she’s looking ahead by inviting vegetarian restaurants from around the state to her place.

They bring their best dishes, to show Bloodroot customers the wide variety available. “I don’t cook Indian food or Jamaican food,” Selma says. “But that’s vegetarian too.”

She invites them for another reason too: to bring people together, in a warm, beautiful place.

That’s the community Selma Miriam created.

That’s Bloodroot.

(Click here for more information on — and directions to — Bloodroot.)

23 responses to “Selma’s Bloodroot Turns 40

  1. Susan Iseman

    Such a special place – congratulations to Bloodroot! We’ve had many delightful meals there. One rather slow Sunday afternoon, Selma sat down with us and chatted for a bit- she is a joy to speak to. And the omelette they served me that day was one of the best I’d ever eaten…

  2. Bobbie Herman

    I love Bloodroot, and have been there often, but not often enough.

  3. Soul satisfying fare prepared in a welcoming, low key environment.

    Bloodroot will only fatten your brain.

  4. Interesting story! I wish I had known about the place while growing up.

  5. David Squires

    One of those rare places that’s held its own thru the years.
    Good Story, Great Spot! BRAVO to all involved…

  6. I love Bloodroot and have been going there for 28 years. My real estate attorney took me there when I bought my house!!!! I have celebrated my birthday and friend’s birthdays there on many occasions. Thanks for posting Dan. It was great to hear the history of Selma’s journey. I wish Bloodroot many more years of success! It’s a one of a kind place with delicious food. Especially love the soups and the home made gluten free bread they make!!!

  7. Catherine Onyemelukwe

    Thanks for the reminder about Bloodroot. When I worked in Bridgeport I went often, but haven’t gone recently. Will soon!

  8. & the Times piece, ironically, appears today. Both excellent; my “hat tip” goes to the 06880 write-up above. 🙂

  9. Fabulous location. Great food. Great women. Great place. I love it there.

  10. Delicious food fueled by a smart powerful group of women!

  11. Werner Liepolt

    Found Bloodroot more than 35 years ago. Been enjoying it ever since.

    Bloodroot’s cookbooks are wonderful. So are their calendars.

    Think the locavore trend is fairly new. Bloodroot has used local farms and sources since the beginning.

    Selma herself is a great resource, generous with cooking, gardening, and foraging advice, deserving to be recognized as one of the area’s great natural resources.

  12. Carolanne Curry

    Out of forty years, I’ve been the lucky one to have been eating here 29 years. Selma, who has been my life-partner for those 29 years, has proven to me without a doubt… that flavor and taste can make vegetarian and vegan meals a dining experience to anticipate.
    I

  13. Bill Boyd (staples 66)

    I went there for years… enjoying the food but was always treated “less well” than my female guests…. I finally got tired of it and stopped going…. too bad…

    • Carolanne Curry

      what did you do Bill?
      There are so many wonderful men that have comes through the door during the 29 years I’ve eaten there.
      I’d suggest you make another effort…..with no chip on your shoulder. OK?

  14. Nancy Hunter

    What does AZUL mean on the parking sign?

  15. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    I still have my Bloodroot cookbook “The Political Palate” from 1980, a gift from a good friend who introduced me to the restaurant. I loved that place. There was nothing like it and the food was so good. They served what they grew according to the seasons. What a concept! I’ll have to come back when I’m in the area again. So happy to know I can.

  16. Eleanor Solovay

    I was there for the opening 40 years ago– along with my dear friend Ruth Ashcraft and our HUSBANDS.
    My husband and I still enjoy Bloodroot and I am thrilled that the women are getting the recognition they deserve.

    Finally — GOOD NEWS in 2017!

  17. Didn’t Bloodroot start Right on Post Road W just on the other side of the bridge? Seem to recall that.