Q&A: Samma and Greg Highland, Entrepreneurs Behind the Gluten-Free Food Service RootDiet

Samma, a nutritionist and dietitian, and Greg, a long-time restaurateur, recently opened RootDiet, a meal delivery service that provides gluten-free and allergen-free meals to Knoxville-area residents. They make the meals from farm-grown, in-season ingredients.

Food allergies requiring a special diet—is that widespread around here?

Samma: It's estimated up to 12 million Americans are afflicted, and food sensitivities are not defined according to an area—it's more an individual thing. Five years ago, you didn't hear much about gluten intolerance but now it's a very common topic of conversation. Because of the American diet, many people find themselves with many digestives issues. Watch TV: What ads do you see run that deal with heartburn and digestion?

How far do you go for the RootDiet ingredients?

Greg: We have a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse and 72 outdoor beds to grow most of our greens—and we forage Knoxville, Asheville, and sometimes Atlanta.

Are you particularly proud of any of your recipes?

Samma: I like to think outside the box and many people say they love my kale cookies and black-bean brownies. We also have a vegan cheese sauce alternative that we make for Three Rivers Market and Whole Foods in Asheville. We are proud of this recipe to the point we built another business on it: Vegan Valley. We have jalapeño, nacho, pimento, and Alfredo flavors.

Do you ever add in, say, bacon? Skittles? Anything really commonplace?

Greg: We work with all kinds of healthy foods, many of them ordinary. We are not opposed to bacon, but let's make it turkey. As for Skittles, that would be upon request only!

How far does your service area stretch?

Greg: Just the Knoxville market at this time.

How did you two meet?

Greg: We met at Cracker Barrel in Dalton, Ga. as manager trainees. I stayed with restaurants and Samma moved into nutrition counseling.

Who really got this idea off the ground?

Samma: Kinda of both of us I guess. We love to cook and it's in our blood since the restaurant days, along with a passion to help those, like myself, with food sensitivities. We want to ease the burden of the modern family.

What's been good/challenging/funny about starting a business together?

Samma: The good part is that we know each other so well we move seamlessly through the kitchen during production. The challenging part is the marketing of this new idea. Funny is our daily medicine. If you don't laugh at what you are doing, laugh at yourself!

Will this ever be a big money maker?

Greg: That's not our first focus, but we believe we will be quite comfortable with less than 30 clients.

Is it something you'd like to expand?

Samma: Yes, we can see it as a franchise a few years down the road once the kinks are worked out.

For more information: RootDiet.com