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