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Friends shared passion for healthy food spurs Humble Roots' success

In this week's What's Up Wednesday, meet Tiffany Chan and Sarah Coughlin, who share the responsibility and the joy of a career and business that creates better-for-you treats

The love of food is common. We photograph our food, we proclaim ourselves foodies, we hunt far and wide for superfoods and special ingredients. But for Tiffany Chan and Sarah Coughlin, love of food became a passion and then a career. The two women put their previous studies aside to forge a new path as co-owners of Humble Roots Organic, a health-focused eatery located at Market & Co. in Upper Canada Mall. 

The pair met in 2014 when Coughlin joined the kitchen team at Rawlicious, a raw vegan restaurant in Markham. Coughlin had just graduated with a degree in psychology and sociology, even though she had realized in year two that she wanted to pursue holistic nutrition. By the time they met, Chan had studied human resources, taught in Korea and completed yoga teacher training in Bali, where she was immersed in a culture of healthy living and plant-based foods. 

The friends decided to attend the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition together. In 2016, they graduated with registered holistic nutritionist designations and brainstormed what to do with their new knowledge. Ultimately, their love for preparing food won out. 

“I always had a passion for being in the kitchen,” Coughlin said.

Added Chan, “We came to understand we love cooking. We want to be able to educate through food.”

In December 2015, they launched Humble Roots from Coughlin’s basement, selling to friends and family, and at farmers markets the following season. While searching for a storefront, they got a fortuitous email from Oxford Properties, owners of Upper Canada Mall. Oxford offered them a chance to get in on the ground floor of Market & Co., 40,000 square feet of foodie heaven. 

Because Humble Roots had built up clientele at the East Gwillimbury Farmers Market, Chan and Coughlin thought a Newmarket location might just work. 

They opened their storefront in September 2018, offering both raw and baked, gluten-free, vegan desserts, free of refined sugars and made with wholesome ingredients. Working with local and organic ingredients as much as possible, they get their produce from Zephyr and maple syrup from a farm in Peterborough. 

“Even our simple cookie looks like a cookie but there are so many good things about it,” Coughlin noted. “You take our cookie compared to Starbucks cookies and you get so many benefits.” 

Humble Roots desserts start with a gluten-free flour blend made up of brown rice, white rice, tapioca starch and potato starch. Added sweetness comes from maple syrup rather than processed sugar. Coconut oil and coconut butter are used as healthier fats. Freshly ground flax seeds eliminate the need for eggs.

Pescatarians (with a diet that includes fish) themselves, the two estimate they eat 90 per cent plant-based. 

“People think vegan is the strangest thing,” Coughlin explained. “It’s more about having whole foods.” 

Added Chan, “I believe in eating and incorporating plant-based products. At the end of the day, food should not be a stressor. Food should bring people together, it should make us healthy.”

Frequent customers are people who don’t eat gluten or dairy, along with health-conscious moms treating their children to better-for-you desserts. 

“People are so happy they found something they can eat,” Chan said. “That reaction to me, I’m reassured we’re doing something right. We’re able to improve someone’s life.”

The co-owners and three employees craft all food and drinks right in the compact mall space, even making in-house almond and coconut milks. Their top-selling smoothie is Banana Baby, a blend of almond milk, bananas, dates, vanilla, almond butter, chia seeds and cinnamon. Popular for dessert is the Cookie Dough Protein Bar, with nourishing ingredients like cashews, hemp seeds, pea protein, sprouted buckwheat and almond butter, that together boast 20 grams of protein.

In August, Humble Roots debuted a line of savoury foods, including two savoury flatbreads with a quinoa base. 

“We don’t live off sweets,” Coughlin said. “We wanted to provide vegan meal options for people. It’s very much how we live, how we enjoy our sweet and savoury foods. I want to be able to educate people how beneficial plant foods are, but also how amazing they taste.” 

With no business backgrounds, the pair admits they are learning as they go. 

“We just had a big passion,” Coughlin said. “Now we’re learning business.” 

Always evolving to meet customers’ needs, they introduced keto desserts that use stevia and erythritol in place of dates and maple syrup. 

With summer events like Toronto’s Veg Food Fest behind them, the team is looking ahead to the new fall menu in mid-September and the holiday season soon after. 

“It never ends for us,” Coughlin said. “Our brains are always go, go, go.” 

Said Chan, “It’s always up and down, but I wouldn’t change it for anything else. The fact that we have each other is great. We share the responsibility, the joy, and we have the same passion.”