What Roots Means to Me

Confessions and lessons from my first job

Aside from Roots being my first job - already making it special - it is also a place in which I hold some of my dearest memories; a place that inspired (and continues to inspire) me to blossom in all the most beautiful and challenging ways; a place that has carried me through the highs and lows; a place that remains so alive in my heart to this day, even as I now live 600 miles away!

Roots is an entity in and of itself. All of its parts (employers, employees, customers, quality plus food, etc.) combine to make an exceptional space to expand oneself. Let’s get one thing clear, one can't work at Roots without one’s life changing in BIG ways. 

So, back to the question. What does Roots mean to me? I'll break it down, because, frankly, Roots means so much to me that I could (no joke) talk about it for HOURS. Maybe I will. 

1. Connection

When I think of Roots, I think of how many people walked in and out of this store, how many people I had the honor of working with, and how most (if not all) were special, powerful interactions and connections. Roots is a place to connect! It's hard not to when you know you’re meeting people who share the sacred reverence for taking care of and nourishing the body. But connection didn't just end with someone I could easily see had the same interests. Roots taught me that we have the ability to connect with all who share this thing called life. Roots expanded my connection with myself and, thus, with all things.  

2. Authenticity

Roots means authenticity to me because, well, I think of how authentic everything about it is. No, Seriously! I am amazed at how beautifully Roots carries out being authentic—everything from authenticity about food to emotions and the inherent connection. It was the insurmountable array of support through both the toughest and most fulfilled times that inspired me to express my truest self. Something beautiful always comes out of being real and true, even if it’s uncomfortable. It totally helped to be surrounded by delicious, high vibrational food AND peeps. The transparency and reality of the traditional American diet, and what they are doing to our food was laid out on the table and brought to light. Roots doesn't mess around.

3. Friendship

The friendships that Roots brought into my life are ones that will last a lifetime. As stated before, one cannot work at Roots without one’s life being changed. That being said, the individuals that Roots has employed have a deep affinity for nourishing themselves and creating deeper friendships. Coming into work was like going to a gathering. We all came together in the most supportive, joyful ways. 

4. Health

Roots taught me SO much about health—most importantly, about self-care. Our lovely (understatement) employers Bill and Carrie held a deep respect for us and were so compassionate when one did not feel well. Health was the key to keeping Roots thrive. I had little knowledge about WHOLE-istic health before working at Roots. And it truly took a while before I understood that it takes ALL parts of oneself to discover what is causing imbalance in the body, mind, and heart. 

5. Integrity

Roots didn't ever sacrifice integrity for business, despite being super alternative. This was a big deal! Many businesses out there are focused on catering to the mainstream, or the cheapest, easiest ways to become successful. Again, Roots doesn't mess around. And being dedicated to the original vision and expansding it has taken blood, sweat, and tears. The abundance that has been put into this café is flowing right back at ‘em in deep ways. 

6. Commitment

Roots means commitment to me because it takes a lot of knowledge and "doing it yourself" to really be an exceptional employer. It’s one commitment to learn and spread knowledge about health. But it’s a whole other commitment to embody it yourself. I was deeply inspired by the Roots team and their commitment to helping others by first taking care of themselves.


And, finally, with all of these parts put together, LOVE is what Roots means to me. I'm amazed at how much Roots transformed my and SO MANY OTHERS lives. It's a true honor to have been a part of this Team.

I love you, team!!


 Emma Lange

Emma Lange

Emma is a two-time Roots employee and all-around gentle, loving soul. She followed her heart to the mountains of North Carolina, where she rides horses, plays in the woods, studies gardening and permaculture, and makes hand-crafted jewelry, available for sale at Roots Organic Juice Cafe. She also makes awesome Instagram stories. Follow her @emma.phant.

"What Inspires You...?"

Recently, one of our team, Madii Rey, asked: "What inspires you to do Roots?" This post provides the answer insofar as I can articulate it in a few words, which is pretty hard to do. So let's get into it.

Carrie and I are not the founders of Roots. We first "found" it as customers before becoming the owners. So I'll group my response into two buckets--that which inspired us to buy the business and that which inspires us to run and grow the business.

I was inspired to buy Roots because of its founding principle -- that eating whole, organic foods is a necessary, and often too difficult to find, part of living a healthy, fulfilling life.

I was inspired to buy Roots because we absolutely love our community -- downtown Valparaiso -- and wanted to express that love by making a deeper investment in it.

I was inspired to buy Roots to have place to implement and test our ideas of how a company should treat its employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

And I was inspired to buy Roots because, after 15 years working with the same great company, I needed a little time to think about and work on some new kinds of problems.

I wrote a more in-depth piece about the decision to leave my corporate job and buy Roots in a previous post.  But the things that inspire me to continue building and growing Roots, I think, are more interesting and less self-centered than those initial motivations.

I am inspired to grow Roots because I now know first-hand how we help people feel good. This is true not only because our food nourishes bodies and tastes delicious, but also because our team, which consists of fourteen truly kind and helpful souls, doles out the  "Roots LOVE" to our lovely and loyal customers every day. I see it in the smiles of our new and returning customers. And I see it in the overwhelmingly positive feedback and reviews that we receive on social media and through our direct customer feedback system. We have a powerful positive energy loop going, where we exist to make people feel good and, in return, we feel great about doing so.

I am inspired to grow Roots because the workplace culture we've created is nurturing, supportive, and infectious. And it needs to be shared. We, as the owners, provided the vision and some space for our culture to emerge. But our team has shaped and sustained it in ways that I could not have hoped for or even imagined. We see and help each other through the toughest of personal times. We celebrate each others' greatest joys and accomplishments. We foster teamwork and we celebrate individuality. We genuinely LOVE those with whom we work. And more people should feel that way at work.

And finally, I am inspired to grow Roots because I know that as we do better we can give back more. As we enjoy success, we share it. This year, we committed to give 10% of our net profits or 1% of our sales, whichever is greater, to community causes that align with Roots' mission and values. And, since taking over Roots, we increased our team compensation by an average of about 30%. But I wish it was even more. Our team deserves health and savings benefits, which we're not yet able to offer as a single-location, small business. Our team members deserve the opportunity to run and even own a Roots location someday. I am not a fan of growth for growth's sake. But in order to provide these additional benefits and personal development opportunities, we need to have a bigger business.

The number and quality of personal relationships that I've formed with teammates and customers at Roots is both staggering and humbling. I encounter hundreds of beautiful people every week, living complex, challenging and authentic lives. When they stop into Roots for their daily dose of wellness, I feel their appreciation for what we do. And that is all the inspiration I need to keep going and growing.

Thanks for asking, Madii.


Roots Values Part 2

When you come in to Roots, chances are pretty good you'll hear the people behind the counter singing out loud or having a deep conversation about manifesting abundance in their lives. You might walk in on a heated debate on the optimal way to slice a banana or see us slamming a round of ginger shots together. What I hope you see and feel is a group of people having fun, being open, and working to make your experience at Roots as genuine as possible. In order for that to happen, we encourage every Roots employee to express themselves freely. In this second installment of the Roots Values series, we share how and, more importantly, why we do this.

Roots Core Value #2

Be Yourself

One thing you'll never see at Roots is a uniform. I can't even imagine asking or, worse, telling a team member to wear the exact same thing as everyone else, everyday. Black cotton chinos and an ill-fitting green polo shirt with embroidered Roots logo? Give me a break!  No! At Roots, you're likely to see an assortment of colorful aprons and other eccentric garb adorning our lovely team.

But our commitment to self expression goes way beyond the (absence of a) dress code. We constantly urge our team to pursue their passions and see where they lead.  For example, we have an employee who makes jewelry and wants to sell it in the café. Yes, please! We have an employee who directs and designs sets for theater productions and needs extended periods of time-off as the curtain rises. Absolutely! We have an employee training to be a yoga instructor; one whose passion is preventing domestic violence; one who plays live music at our events; one building a health coaching practice; several studying in college. I could go on. Each and every person on our team has our support in terms of access to our space, our advice and ideas, or just some free time to go do something else for a while.

We do this because we all spend a lot of time at work. And it's no way to live if you have to "act" a certain way for such a significant chunk of your precious time on this earth. And we believe our team is more engaged and satisfied with their work because of it and, thus, our customers have a better experience.  We believe, in the long-run, we will have higher retention and referral rates from our employees and, thus, our recruiting and training costs will be lower.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is, as always, a flip side to this coin. Occasionally, there are conflicts between personalities and passions when people are being fully themselves.  When these conflicts arise, we deal with them. But we never ask people to change who they are. No! I would rather amicably part ways with someone than to have them try to be something they're not. 

Some in our industry might worry about being more "brand consistent" in an effort to build trust with the "audience." Well, fuck that! We are humans, not merely consumers. When we open our hearts and minds, we see through the fake, polished veneer of uniforms and logos. We trust what's genuine; what's real. So we invite you to be yourself when you come in to see us in all of our glory.  If I'm there, I'll be the one singing Earth, Wind & Fire in two-part harmony with my friend Zachary.

Roots Values Part 1

When Carrie and I bought Roots Organic Juice Cafê, we knew the product was great!  We were customers long before we were owners.  And Roots was well-known for its fresh, organic, and healthy menu.  We didn't want to change any of that.  What we did want was for the business to begin to reflect our values and personalities.  

We are a young-at-heart, laid-back, health-conscious, and somewhat irreverent couple who are active in and supportive of our local community. On Day One, we shared our values with our new team and started the continual process of embedding and reinforcing them throughout our business in how we work and interact with one another.  Now, in a series of blog posts, we share those same values and experiences with you.

Roots Core Value #1

A Happy Team Makes Happy Customers

When you read the annual corporate reports from pretty much any major company in the world, you see at least three stakeholder groups mentioned -- shareholders, customers and employees.  But notice the order of them.  See how shareholders (i.e. owners) are listed first.  That's often the case in large corporate environments in my experience. So much emphasis and energy is placed on increasing financial returns to the owners of the business. When I studied business in college, they taught my that the very purpose of a corporation was to maximize shareholder value. But we think these companies and my business school professors have it backwards.  

At Roots, employees come first; customers second; and we, the owners, last. Always! One of the very first actions we took after taking over at Roots was to tear-up the incumbent employee discount policy. We replaced it with this:

  1. Coffee and tea are free while you work
  2. Everything else is half-off; anytime (whether you're on the clock or not)
  3. Be responsible and keep killing it!

That's it.  That's our "policy."  Three lines.  No confusing stipulations or if/then conditions.  It is rooted, pardon the pun, in the simple notion that our team is made up of responsible human beings, worthy of our respect. We start from a position of trust and go from there.

Clients don’t come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.
— Richard Branson

Another employee-first change we made was implementing sick pay.  This may seem like a no-brainer.  But many small-business and service-industry jobs don't have sick pay.  If you miss work, you don't get paid.  Period.  Well, that didn't sit well with us.  It incentivizes people to come to work when they are not well.  This not only compromises their recovery time, but also puts the rest of the team and our customers at risk of catching what they've got.  So we pay for sick time.

These are just a couple of examples of how we live this value at Roots.  Some will think we're too naive or liberal with these practices.  (Shout out to the few Theory X-ers still hanging on out there!)  Others may think they're no big deal.  But from our experience, I can say that this approach is having the desired effect.  We have a team of twelve remarkable, fully engaged people at Roots who consistently act in the interests of both our customers and our business.  And beyond this, we support and love one another in ways that transcend the workplace.  That may not be the traditional bottom-line in business.  But it sure makes these "shareholders" happy.

Passion Ignited

Health is about staying connected with people who are supportive and people who need support.

I met the boy who would become my fiancé when we were in high school.  Back then, he wasn't healthy. He was very overweight. That part was visible. But what I didn’t know was that he was also suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information between the body and brain. Though I knew him then, we didn't have a close relationship.  We graduated and went our separate ways.

Several years later, we reconnected and he looked so different. He looked healthy. He looked good! I wondered how he did it so I accepted his invitation to go out for dinner. He told me his story about changing his lifestyle. He had found purpose in life through organic farming and eating the right food. I couldn't believe it. His MS symptoms were gone. He wasn’t taking any prescription medications. His medication was food.

Having struggled myself with depression and anxiety, I was amazed and intrigued. He had something I wanted. So I clung to him and didn’t let go. I thought that, if I was just with him, I might start to change. But I learned it does not work that way. I hit another one of my lows and I didn't know what to do anymore.

Then in 2014, I started a new job at Roots Organic Juice Café in my hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana. That's when things started to change. It's when I started to change. Roots ignited a passion and purpose in my life. I started to do nutritional research and asked a lot of questions. I stopped drinking pop and started drinking water. I cut back on processed foods and ate more whole foods. The transformation was dramatic and powerful. Within 18 months, I stopped taking prescription medications for depression and anxiety. And in March 2015, my high school friend became my fiancé. Later we were blessed with twin babies, Sebastian and Victoria.

Then I heard about Institute for Integrative Nutrition and their Health Coaching certification. Wanting to go further in my education about health, I had to sign up. I knew it would be hard to balance being a new mother of twins with both work and school. But I had faith that everything would work out. And it did. This month, I completed my course work and exams and am now, officially, a Certified Health Coach.

So, why am I telling you all this? I am telling you this because I was unhappy for more than ten years. And learning about health and nutrition helped me relieve my depression and anxiety just as it relieved my fiancé of his MS symptoms. This year, I turn thirty years old. And I feel like I can finally say I have found my purpose in life. I am truly happy and healthy. But I've learned that health isn't just about cutting back sugar or drinking more water or counting your calories. Health is much bigger than that.  True health is about staying connected with people who are supportive and people who need support. Health is about finding some balance in this crazy hectic life. Health ignited a passion in me. I will be sharing my experiences and knowledge in this blog in hopes that it might help ignite something in you too.



 Gabriela Ramos

Gabriela Ramos

Gaby Ramos is a certified Health Coach and team leader at Roots Organic Juice Café in Valparaiso, Indiana. While she self-describes as quite shy and a scatterbrain, don’t be fooled. Her opinions and beliefs are strong and she goes to great lengths for the ones she loves. Her heart is open; easily accessible; easily taken; easily broken. You can follow Gaby here and on Twitter @gabyella_ramos.