Back to the Roots

Oakland, CA

It is the combination of hard work, fun and, excitement that runs through the Back to the Roots story. Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora founded Back to the Roots in 2009, during their final semester of business school at UC Berkeley. An idea about growing mushrooms in discarded coffee grounds sparked a gardening project in Alejandro’s kitchen. From this first batch of mushrooms, things moved quickly. The two started out as mushroom farmers, collecting the discarded coffee grounds from local coffee shops and producing mushrooms in their warehouse. Now, Back to the Roots offers 18 products. In addition to the mushroom-growing kits that they launched with, you can buy both ready-to-grow and ready-to-eat products in major retailers.

Back to the Roots first loan was with Main Street Launch (then OBDC). Nikhil says that their loan from Main Street Launch allowed them to “scale more quickly” and move their operations to West Oakland. It was support from Main Street Launch that allowed the business to “build the infrastructure needed to increase production.” Now, Back to the Roots has moved from debt-based capital to investors, raising $2 million in outside capital, largely supported by local companies who have been their mentors. They’ve also recently moved to a great office/loft space near Jack London Square.

When you visit the office, you see experiments everywhere, product tests in progress, and their team working hard to bring these visions to life. Currently, Back to the Roots has 15 staff who are working to “undo food”, leading a new wave of food that demands total transparency about ingredient sources and the content of what’s on the table. Nikhil says that their hope is to “create livelihoods, not just jobs.” The founders are using their entrepreneurial minds to think about supporting their workers and the community as well as developing their product and markets.

Back to the Roots is an ever-evolving brand. Soon, you will be able find their Gardens in a Can in Target and Home Depot, and kids in Oakland will start to experience their philosophy and products at school. Right now, you can order their delicious cereal (two new flavors coming this fall) and other ready-to-eat products at Costco, Amazon Prime, Whole Foods, and Target.

If you’re interested in learning more about this countertop farming, urban-recycling, neighborhood empowerment business, and the new products coming out, visit the Back to the Roots website: