Inside the Santa Ynez Valley Magazine Spring 2003 Edition
By Reka Badger
Not so long ago, quality-conscious food shoppers were dismissed as health nuts and forced to search the bins of dimly lit vitamin stores for their soybeans and supplements. They endured the fusty odor of brewer s yeast, high prices and slim selection in their pursuit of optimal health, and could only dream of finding organic produce in their favorite supermarket.
The founders of New Frontiers Natural Marketplace have changed all that, dispelling the gloom and fumes with well-lit displays and airy aisles, and welcoming shoppers with an abundance of choices, festive events and a gourmet deli complete with outdoor seating.
Jonathan King and Jake Collier launched their thriving enterprise in 1986 when they established two, and later a third, natural food stores in Salt Lake City, Utah. Within a few years, however, the short growing season had thwarted their attempts to raise enough produce to fill store shelves and market forces had compelled them rethink their business plan.
When they noticed that natural food giants like Wild Oats and Follow Your Heart established beachheads in large cities and then muscled out the smaller guys, they decided to make a proactive move. Figuring they d have more success in smaller markets, the two began scouting for towns of under 75,000 people, and eventually sold their Utah stores.
We really like our strategy, Jonathan admits with a smile, the quality of life in small towns is better.
In 1992, New Frontiers purchased 53 acres of farmland just south of Buellton, and the work of earning certified organic status for the new growing grounds began. Jonathan and Jake planted soil-enriching cover crops and let the land lie fallow for several years in order to meet the standards for purity. The corporation continues to spend about $3000 each year to maintain organic certification.
With the help of Helmut Klauer, who manages the Buellton operation, the company grows about 40 percent of the produce found on the shelves of New Frontiers markets. Jonathan laughingly refers to his crew as the pepper kings, because the mild microclimate at the farm allows them to grow peppers for several weeks longer than other commercial growers.
Jake and Jonathan opened their first west coast marketplace in Solvang s Valley Plaza in 1997. A few months later, they cut the ribbon on a spacious store in San Luis Obispo, and gradually followed up with three more stores in Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona, Arizona. The corporation employs 375 people, and due to the high percentage of college students in three of the locations, 60 percent work part time.
Both Jake and Jonathan, whose wives work in the Solvang office, agree that New Frontiers is a family affair. Employees enjoy the respect of their bosses, generous benefits and the kind of flexibility that allows a parent to leave work to care for a sick child.
We feel if we treat our employees like family, then they will treat our customers the same way, Jonathan explains, We have great people, everyone takes care of each other.
Born and raised in Solvang, Dave Blanchard manages the Solvang store and proudly relates that his father grew up on a Santa Rosa Road ranch. He savors having such a fine job so close to home and is grateful to be able to raise his young family in the same small town environment he remembers as a child.
The Valley s own Ron Colone, author, columnist for the Santa Ynez Valley News and self-described artist advocate, has served as marketing director for all five New Frontiers stores since 2001. Bringing his inimitable flair and optimism to bear, he has implemented the store s ground-breaking Music on the Green summer concert series, a showcase for musicians and a chance for locals to sample goodies from the store.
Summer is a slow period and we were looking to offer more, Ron says, but it s also tied into the mission of New Frontiers to improve the quality of life in our community. I wanted to bring people together, where they didn t have to spend money and could gather with friends and hear great music.
When a vacancy in the deli came up, Jake and Jonathan approached Anne Bunch, celebrated chef of Side Street cafe in the early 1990s, about joining the New Frontiers staff.
She was still involved with the [Santa Ynez] Feed and Grill and she was wary of us, like who are these guys? Ç Jonathan remembers. We were excited to bring in a chef and we just clicked once we got the guidelines straight, our goals were right in line.
Anne has written A Muse Came to Dinner, a cookbook and New Frontiers publication that contains recipes for some of the delis most popular dishes. From vegan soup and chocolate cake, to enchiladas made with green salsa and peanut butter (Jonathan s favorite) and Temple Tofu (a Southeast Asian chicken noodle soup that Jake favors), there s something for everyone.
She really has a way with recipes, Jonathan says proudly, while Dave applauds any of her desserts.
New Frontiers lives its commitment to community by donating five percent of sales generated on the first Wednesday of each month to a different, non-profit charity.
There is a whole food ethic, Jonathan declares. We try to conduct business with a heart to inspire growth in the people we encounter [and] to return a portion of our proceeds to the community.
Jack LaLane (who shops at the SLO store), Adele Davis and a host of whole food crusaders popularized the vital connection between nutritious food and radiant health. They persuaded thoughtful shoppers to seek alternatives to junk food and empty calories and triggered a trend that has given us New Frontiers, a whole food emporium where beef eaters and vegans alike can find everything they need in their favorite supermarket.
Located in the Valley Plaza, at 1984 Old Mission Drive, New Frontiers Marketplace is open 7 days a week. Concerts on the Green take place on summer Thursdays, from 5:30 to 7:30.