‘I am the granola.’ Rooted Living founder Rachel Domb takes healthy snack food startup  to next level

bowl of granola with yogurt and raspberries
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Fourth-year Northeastern student Rachel Domb was recently standing in line at Anthropologie on Newbury Street in Boston with her Rooted Living tote bag draped over her shoulder when the cashier spoke out.

“Have you tried their granola? It’s so good,” Domb recalled the cashier saying, referring to Rooted Living, a healthy snack company. “And I was like, ‘I have tried their granola.’”

In her head, Domb said, she was thinking, “I am the granola.” 

The cashier said she, too, had a Rooted Living tote bag and loved the granola snacks. Excited that the clerk, a Northeastern student, was a fan of Rooted Living, Domb told her she was the founder of the company, and the flattering comments made her day.

“Moments like those happen frequently around campus now, with three people I didn’t know coming up to me on my first day back at classes. It’s a surreal and shocking feeling,” said Domb, a 2023 Women Who Empower Innovator Award recipient.

Domb’s desire for healthy snacks developed into a thriving business venture while she has been a student at Northeastern. The ever-growing popularity of the eco-friendly, plant-based snacks has turned the brand into marketable merchandise.

“The totes have been a really fun way of kind of connecting me to the Rooted Living community that I don’t get to see every day. But it’s been a fun way of knowing how this brand is slowly spreading around. Or, it’s just a really great tote bag,” Domb said with a laugh. 

Domb’s startup grew out of her desire for healthy food fuels when she was running track in high school. She wanted a healthier alternative to the refined-sugar-filled snacks in the stores. So she began to make her own healthy snacks. And she did not want her snacks packaged in environmentally unfriendly plastics, so Rooted Living packaging is compostable. 

Rooted Living granola snacks have been on the market for a year. The snacks—in peanut butter crunch and maple almond flavors—are available online and, with the help of a small distributor, now in about 14 stores in the Greater Boston area. 

Sales have been “great,” Domb said, but a little chaotic as she juggled a wide range of business obligations with school work and leadership roles in entrepreneurial groups.

Determined to scale Rooted Living, Domb set out in the spring to fundraise to provide the resources for growth. She participated in pitch programs and networked with business people, entrepreneurs and Northeastern graduates. 

“I started the initial phases of fundraising with the sole purpose of being able to scale, to have a team so that all of the opportunities that were coming to me, I was really able to fulfill. And I was able to bring to life and build a system that could really scale properly,” said Domb, a sustainable economics major.

After a successful summer, Domb made a significant staff expansion in October. She added a head of sales, head of operations, head of marketing, chief of staff, head of growth and head of ambassador program, all part-time positions. Five of the six are Northeastern students, she said. 

“This beautiful team of people coming from the minds of Northeastern,” Domb said. “So getting big and fast.” 

Domb credits much of Rooted Living success to the entrepreneurial programs at Northeastern and her many mentors, including former Northeastern professor Mark Bernfeld.

Bernfeld, who retired in June as a professor of practice and finance, is an experienced entrepreneur and angel investor. He knows what it takes to develop a startup and considers Domb an exceptional entrepreneur. 

“She totally believes in the missions of Rooted Living, which are, one, healthy food, healthy, delicious food, and number two, sustainability. And I invest in lots of sustainable businesses,” Bernfeld said. 

“She has a passion for those two missions and a determination to be successful, not just because she wants to be a successful business person, but because she wants to accomplish those missions,” he said. “She wants to provide healthy, delicious food, and she wants to have a company that does well for the environment. Those missions were more important to her than financial success or ego fame, whatever. And that really impressed me about her.”

One of the new hires is Tyler Farley, 26, a 2019 Northeastern graduate and current Mosaic fellow who is working as head of growth. 

Farley said developing a product and bringing it to market is a huge feat, and she has accomplished that while sticking to her mission.

“Rachel is incredibly passionate and an inspiration among students at Northeastern. She is a people-first leader who is excited about bringing in experienced people to help her grow Rooted Living,” Farley said.

“She inspires everyone around her and makes them feel valued,” Farley said. “Everyone feels like they are a part of Rachel’s success and the wins are shared in the community. Students throughout Northeastern feel like they are a part of Rooted Living, as many have been on teams supporting her.”

Determined to solve this sugary snack issue—and the environmentally unfriendly fact that the snacks stocking store shelves were packaged in plastic—Domb took her efforts to a new level when she arrived at Northeastern.

As a second-year student, Domb grabbed the top prize in the Husky Startup Challenge for her entrepreneurial efforts with Rooted Living.   

Looking back at the release of her first products a year ago, Domb said the feeling was “surreal.” 

“Ridiculous. I have a picture and video of me opening and holding the first bag. It was a weird kind of combination of it being surreal, but also anti-climatic because it was something that I had been preparing for, looking at on a screen and getting ready for kind of this anticipation for years,” she said. “And so I was like, yes, it was amazing, but it was also kind of like, okay, thank God it’s here. I can finally get into the sales mode. I was at that point just ready to launch, ready to get out there and eager for that next step.” 

Domb joined WISE, Northeastern’s Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, and that put her on the startup road. Then she won the Husky Startup Challenge in the fall of 2020, and the $2,500 prize helped her get Rooted Living rolling.

“What WISE did was present business and entrepreneurship as essentially taking something you’re passionate about and growing it while solving a problem. And it is really, truly as simple as that,” she said.

Domb wanted to produce a healthy snack with no refined sugar. She did not want it wrapped in plastic, but rather an environmentally friendly package.

“I had something I wanted to build. I had something that I was trying to solve. I didn’t really know that that was business or entrepreneurship, but they gave me that initial empowerment,” Domb said. “They believed in me before I believed in me and it cut through a lot of personal limiting beliefs that I had about myself and my success, around learning and doing things that I had never done before. It really gave me a lot of confidence and it continues to challenge me because I’m just learning things constantly that I don’t know how to do.”  

In addition to WISE, Domb worked with Scout, a student-led design organization at Northeastern, on the initial branding for Rooted Living. And two years later, Domb is working with them again to do a “little brand revamp” and work on the website as the core philosophy of Rooted Living has developed. She further developed her entrepreneurial skills with a venture co-op through the Sherman Center. IDEA, a student-led venture accelerator at Northeastern, and the law school’s Intellectual Property CO-LAB also provided support.

Now, a year after her product launch, Domb continues to pitch Rooted Living and execute her plan for growth. 

Farley said he is excited about joining Domb’s team and the future of Rooted Living.

“I could imagine Rooted Living being a household name paving the way for brands reducing plastic consumption. There could be an entire catalog of healthy snacks that you can buy from any grocery store and track your own impact as everyone does their part to protect the planet,” Farley said.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.