By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
Reggie Torbor, former Auburn University star, NFL linebacker, and New York Giants Super Bowl Champion, always wanted to be a professional football player. After that goal was realized, he had another dream—to own a community café.
Torbor and his wife, Michelle, have made that dream a reality. This spring, the couple opened Taproot Café in Hoover, Alabama, which offers a menu of healthy options, including sandwiches, salads, and smoothies.
“Our food is really simple,” Reggie said. “We’re searching for the best ingredients we can find, and we believe those simple ingredients done really well lead to a really good product.”
Serving food made from locally sourced ingredients is also important to the Torbors, who have partnered with local farmers, such as Hamm Farms, Smitherman Farms, Ireland Farms, and others. Sandwiches are served on bread from Birmingham Breadworks. Smoothies are lightly sweetened with honey from Eastaboga Bee Co., instead of sugar-laden syrups or ice cream.
For the Torbors, these partnerships with local farmers and suppliers are about more than the food.
“We’re not restaurant professionals,” Reggie said. “We need their stories, their experiences, their knowledge, and their passions to push us and sharpen us. They have a lot to teach us.”
Taproot Café has a simple slogan—”Love people. Feed people. Connect people.” And this slogan guides how they do business.
Reggie works as a personal development manager at a nationally renowned, Birmingham-based construction firm, and he is a motivational speaker. Michelle is a licensed professional counselor at a Hoover-based mental health care provider, where she specializes in anxiety and trauma. They both see Taproot Café as an extension of the work they do from 9 to 5.
“Reggie and I have a common goal of loving people,” Michelle said. “I think the restaurant is a way that we can love people, and not just people who eat there. We’re able to love these farmers by supporting them in what they do, these people who have worked really hard to create these products.”
While the Torbors want customers to enjoy the food they serve at Taproot, Michelle said she can’t help but get a bit giddy when customers say they love the atmosphere just as much.
“We want them to see smiling faces when they come in and know this is a place where they can feel accepted,” she said.
Loving people also means serving people food that’s good and good for them.
“We live in Hoover, we’re busy, our sons have busy schedules, and we find ourselves needing to get takeout a lot,” Michelle said.
The Torbors have two school-age sons. Fifteen-year-old R.J. played football, and he now runs track and plays piano and percussion. Thirteen-year-old Cameron plays basketball and produces music beats. Both boys helped with getting Taproot Café ready for opening and now work at the restaurant a few days a week.
“We saw an opportunity for a healthy option to be in the city of Hoover,” Michelle said.
The couple strives to be considerate of various dietary restrictions and needs. If you don’t do dairy, don’t fret. Taproot smoothies are made from almond or oat milk—your choice. If you don’t eat meat, try the grilled cheese or opt for the veggie sandwich made with mushrooms, spinach, red onions, and roasted red peppers.
“I just imagine a mom who is trying to be healthy coming here after her workout at the YMCA up the street with her kids, and she can order something wholesome and delicious that keeps her on track.” Reggie said.
The Torbors have been married for 16 years. In addition to their two biological sons, they took in Victor, a foreign exchange student from Nigeria, about 10 years ago, and they consider him their oldest son. Victor now lives in Texas with his wife, Madeline.
Reggie and Michelle met when they were students at Auburn University, where he studied criminology and she majored in psychology. Reggie, who’s originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, always knew he wanted to play professional football but didn’t think he’d make the cut, so he set his sights on being a lawyer instead.
“It wasn’t until I was a junior at Auburn that I thought it would happen,” he said of his football career.
Reggie would go on to be drafted by the New York Giants in 2004, become a Super Bowl champion with the Giants in the 2007 season, and play in the NFL as a linebacker for eight years.
Michelle, who grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Shades Valley High School in 2001, has known since her teenage years that she wanted to be a therapist. She credits the quirky 1990s sitcom “Ally McBeal,” which followed a young attorney and the ups and downs of her romantic relationships.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but she would go see her therapist all the time,” Michelle explained. “I didn’t even know what that was, but I knew that was what I was meant to do.”
Running a restaurant while juggling demanding careers, marriage, and parenthood can be tough, but the couple said it’s all possible thanks to Michelle’s brother, Eric Myers, who serves as the general manager of Taproot.
A former law enforcement officer, Myers sees Taproot as another way he can serve his community.
“Service was my main reason for going into law enforcement,” said Myers, who was an officer for 12 years. “I’ve always had a servant’s heart, and [working at the restaurant] is just a different aspect of it.”
Managing Taproot is Myers’s first restaurant gig, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for with Southern hospitality. Walk through the door of Taproot and you’ll be greeted by Myers and his staff, no matter how busy they are. Stay for a while, and Myers will stop by your table not only to ask if you like your food but also just to make sure you’re having a good day.
“We don’t just want your money,” Myers said. “We want you to have an experience and say this place feels like home.”
Reggie and Michelle agree that Myers is the perfect person to help cultivate community at Taproot.
“Taproot Café would not exist without him,” Reggie said of Myers.
On June 19, Taproot Café partnered with Hoover-Ambassadors for Hoover Equity and Diversity (Hoover-AHEAD)—a group of Hoover residents and stakeholders focused on promoting racial equity, diversity, and inclusion within the city—to host a Juneteenth celebration. The Torbors hope to host more events in the future as another way to connect to the community Taproot seeks to serve.
“We love people, and we love food—and we believe the best things happen when you put the two together,” Reggie Torbor said.
Taproot Café is located at 5190 Medford Drive, Suite 124, in Hoover. Visit Taproot Cafe (taproot-cafe.com) to learn more.