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.

Walking Home

“We want to wait and see.”  That’s the message I got from management about my big project at work last summer.  I hustled to get the proposal ready for their approval, as I had done many times before.  Honestly, I’d never had one turned down.  I worked hard to make sure that was the case.  I checked in with the key decision makers to see if I could answer any questions; to see if I could clarify my rationale or projected outcomes.  This time was no different.  But they wanted to wait.  My reaction was like: Okay!?  Wow!  That’s cool I guess!?  Well, I suppose now I have a little more time on my hands.

So, I walked away.

No, I didn’t quit my job.  I just took a walk.  Several walks, actually.  For 30 minutes each day last summer, I walked.  Really, it was more than once a day.  I found my walks so refreshing that I started doing it twice, occasionally three times, a day.  I called them my “30-minute vacations.”  I eventually added a sitting part to the middle of some: walk for 15 minutes, sit for 15 minutes, walk back for 15 minutes.  This continued on through the fall and into early winter.  And, though it was frankly hard to stick to through the dead of winter, it was really easy to start back up again in the spring.

I rarely had a specific route or destination in mind when I walked.  I just picked a direction and went.  I tried to be present in the moment, to notice and appreciate the beautiful architecture and people of Chicago.  I took pictures and shared them on Facebook under the hashtag #30minvaca.  I learned the history of some of the buildings, parks and sculptures.  I visited some places that I hadn’t been in a while, like where my Dad used to work.  Occasionally, I invited a friend from work to walk with me.  But mostly I just walked, in several short increments each day.  And as I walked, somehow, little-by-little, something transformational was happening.  Without any particular direction or goal, day-by-day, I was changing.  By walking around and paying attention, I was finding myself.  During these brief breaks from the daily grind, I had some time to think and explore.

Once I started walking, I found myself doing all kinds of other things I’d never tried before.  I built a website with my wife for our friend Dana who runs a wonderful local yoga studio.  I blogged about controversial issues in my community and openly, but respectfully, disagreed with my good neighbor, Heath.  And, because we disagreed, we talked more.  Because we talked more, my good neighbor became a good friend.  Because I opened up, I met a bunch of interesting people.  For example, I met Elias, a community organizer, and got involved in his new civic incubator idea, the C-Lab.  Because I got involved in C-Lab, I met an up-and-coming entrepreneur named Eric and had many good conversations (and maybe a few good beers) about the promises and challenges of creating a mission-driven business.  I met my ground-breaking, trail-blazing city councilman, Robert, who later nominated me president of our long-standing Central Neighborhood Association.  And in this role, I met another whole-hearted community leader, Garner, who inspired me to broaden our group’s mission to include helping the less fortunate within and beyond our neighborhood boundaries.

In the year since I started taking 30-minute vaca’s, I was easily more creative, more productive, and more engaged with the people in my community than I was in the previous 41 combined.  I guess I was focused on other things.  Important things, for sure, like going to college, getting a job, starting a business, failing in business, getting another job, climbing the corporate ladder, starting a family.  These are worthy pursuits.  I had by almost any measure, a truly great life.  But something was missing.  Somewhere along the way, I traded my creativity for certainty.  I sacrificed freedom for comfort.  Because I worked 50 miles from home, I was quite literally not “in community” much of the time.  I was making a great living, but not living greatly.

Throughout the past year, I realized how important community is.  I opened myself up and all of these wonderful new relationships and opportunities within walking distance of my front door came flooding in. I am surrounded by so many interesting people — successful artists, and small business women, authors, and university professors, doctors, and developers, farmers, and even a Hollywood-acclaimed fashion designer.  The talents, accomplishments, and all-around hutzpah of my neighbors and friends was awe-inducing once I got to know them.

Oh, and that big work project that started me on this journey, it was approved.  I finished that too.  And everything was fine.  So, nearly a year on from starting my 30-minute vacation practice, and after 15 years at a legendary company doing interesting and impactful work for great pay, I walked away from my job; for real this time.  I made my last commute into Chicago as a full-timer on September 30, 2016.  About a month later, my wife and I bought a local business that we loved called Roots Organic Juice Café.  Motivated by the desire to spend more time with my family and in my community and inspired by the many people I’ve met, I gave back the comforts and the perceived certainties in exchange for a more authentic life.

Now, I’m not saying that walking 30 minutes a day is the only thing that triggered this change in me.  Lots of people my age go through a similar mid-life … checkpoint, shall we say.  I was fortunate to be at a point where I was both ready and able to think deeply about and act on these things.  Not everybody has such a privilege.  But I’m lucky.  I have a supportive family, centered on my gracious, lovely wife of 20 years who thought it was crazy, not that I left my day job, but that it took me so long to summon the courage to do so.  She’s braver in these matters than I’ll ever be.  And there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I could have made this decision without her absolute encouragement and unrelenting faith in me.  But I found that the simple act of taking frequent, short breaks from my “normal” routine allowed me to see things that were right there in front of me all along.  It gave me a little space to drop in and listen to myself and to think critically about the purpose and direction of my life.  I don’t know how this will all turn out.  We’ll see.  But, in the meantime, I recommend that you get out of your normal and go take a hike.