'We saw the life come back to him': Changing dad's diet leads to two suburban health food stores

  • Umar Ahmad, owner of Organic Rootz health food store in Barrington, makes a Maaz's MYLK smoothie Thursday afternoon. The smoothie has fruit, nuts, spices and local honey.

      Umar Ahmad, owner of Organic Rootz health food store in Barrington, makes a Maaz's MYLK smoothie Thursday afternoon. The smoothie has fruit, nuts, spices and local honey. photos by Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Umar Ahmad, owner of Organic Rootz health food store in Barrington and Algonquin, is pictured with his wife Ambreen, son Maaz, 2, and daughter Ayla, 7 months. The store has a wide selection of vitamins and supplements, left, including zinc and vitamins C and D.

      Umar Ahmad, owner of Organic Rootz health food store in Barrington and Algonquin, is pictured with his wife Ambreen, son Maaz, 2, and daughter Ayla, 7 months. The store has a wide selection of vitamins and supplements, left, including zinc and vitamins C and D. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Umar Ahmad opened Organic Rootz in June at 215 N. Hough St., near downtown Barrington. He operates a second Organic Rootz in Algonquin.

      Umar Ahmad opened Organic Rootz in June at 215 N. Hough St., near downtown Barrington. He operates a second Organic Rootz in Algonquin. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • The Organic Rootz store in Barrington carries a large selection of herbs.

      The Organic Rootz store in Barrington carries a large selection of herbs. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Umar Ahmad at his Organic Rootz store at 215 N. Hough St., near downtown Barrington.

      Umar Ahmad at his Organic Rootz store at 215 N. Hough St., near downtown Barrington. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/7/2022 8:17 AM

Twelve years ago, Umar Ahmad watched his father battle stress, insomnia, depression and digestive problems, and take a variety of medications, to no avail.

"He was in really bad shape," said Ahmad, of Lake in the Hills. "I was like, 'I need to do something before it's too late.'"

 

So Ahmad began to study holistic health counseling. Working with doctors, he helped his father change his diet by adding more raw vegetables, and "green" juices and fruit smoothies with "superfoods" like goji berries, maca powder, honey, cacao and spirulina.

His father's health improved dramatically, and eventually he stopped taking most of his medications, Ahmad said.

"Basically, we saw the life come back to him."

That seed blossomed into Ahmad's opening the health food store Organic Rootz, which has locations in Algonquin and Barrington. Delivery is available via DoorDash and GrubHub.

"A lot of people don't know there's other options to heal yourself," he said. "It's not all about surgery and medications. A lot of times those things (diseases) can be prevented. That's what we specialize in -- healing people naturally."

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The Algonquin store opened in summer 2019, and the one in Barrington followed last summer.

Organic Rootz offers vegetarian and vegan foods: organic salads, healthy wraps and sandwiches, smoothies and juices. Ingredients like CBD, plant-based protein, elderberry, goji berries, hemp seeds, ginger, turmeric, probiotics and more can be added. There is a "herb wall" with 175 medicinal herbs in alphabetical order, plus supplements with immune-boosting ingredients like zinc, vitamin C and more. The store also offers juice cleanses and packages.

Products are locally sourced as much as possible, and almost everything is organic and non-GMO, Ahmad said.

The chocolate peanut butter smoothie is a best-seller. Ahmad's favorites are the "Rootz PBNJ" smoothie -- strawberries, bananas, dates, peanut butter, almond milk and local honey -- and the "biggie greens" juice -- apple, cucumber, celery, kale, lemon.

The stores have 10 employees altogether. Ahmad's wife, Ambreen, also helps out. The couple have two young children.

Ahmad, 36, said he worked as a loan officer and real estate investor before starting Organic Rootz. He still does some investing, he added.

Opening during the COVID-19 pandemic has been "a wild ride," he said.

"Thank God they're both doing good," he said of the two stores that have a laid-back vibe with many plants. "I'd say Algonquin is doing better. It's been around a lot longer, and people know about it. Barrington is still relatively new, and people are learning about it."

Drinking smoothies and cold-pressed juices is not a miracle cure -- Ahmad's father, for example, recently had gallbladder surgery -- but it does make a huge difference in aging well, Ahmad said.

"It was a learning experience for me too, big time," he said. "It's helped me live a more positive life."

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