Staff of Life grocery store has for a half-century been a backbone of healthy eating and living in Santa Cruz County, selling organic food and natural products long before those concepts hit the mainstream.
Founders Richard Josephson and Gary Bascou launched the business as a tiny organic bakery in 1969, and today the giant flagship store at 1266 Soquel Avenue is one of the only independently owned natural grocery businesses in the county.
Now, just over two years after announcing they were opening their second location at 906 East Lake Ave. in the East Lake Village Shopping Center in Watsonville, the owners are ready to open on March 30.
Bascou says he designed the new store to have an open, welcoming feel, where customers immediately have a view of the produce section when they enter. He also wanted to buck the trend of the industrial-style rows of most grocery stores.
He says the vibrant colors were inspired by visits to villages in Mexico.
The building has served as a grocery store for decades, most recently as Super Max Foods. But the gleaming, 20,000 square-foot interior has been completely remodeled using almost entirely local businesses, and many of the products in the store will come from local providers.
General contractor Manning Development had a hand in the construction. The store also used Rinaldi Tile and Marble, JG Pro Painting Company, Preferred Plumbing, and C and N Builders.
In addition, the store worked with the Agriculture History Project and the Pajaro Valley Historical Association with help on the store’s agricultural-themed decorations.
The store employed local artists William de Ess Studios, Mott Jordan, Roy Johnson Lighting, and Art Thomae to help with the decorative touches. This includes painted aisle signs inspired by scenes throughout the county.
The concept of using local resources comes part-and-parcel with the business’ core philosophy of green living and supporting one’s community, Bascou says. The store is a charter member of Think Local First Santa Cruz, a confederation of small businesses that promotes local products and services.
“We’re locally owned, local people are our customers,” Bascou said. “We want to give back to the community. It’s important for us to stimulate the support of local small and independent businesses, not giant corporate companies.”
Perhaps most importantly, the store will sell organic food, a concept that can be broadly defined but at its core means that farmers and ranchers use renewable resources, give animals no antibiotics or growth hormones and don’t use most pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on their plants. This is thought to be beneficial for both the people who consume the products, and for the environment.
Lakeside Organic Gardens in Watsonville—one of Staff of Life’s providers—uses such methods.
Eventually, the owners hope to hire a nutritionist to help encourage healthy eating, Bascou says.
“We want to bring good, healthy products to the community,” Bascou said.“We started it as an idea we believed in. We’re really not in it just for money. We really are dedicated. We eat the food we sell, we live the life of eating healthy. We really believe in the process of organic food.”
Bascou says the store will be similar in many ways to its Santa Cruz location, with a vast selection of beer and wine—much of it local—along with an impressively vast variety of bulk goods and groceries. Customers will find a deli and a seafood and meat counter, a bakery, a smoothie bar and quite possibly the only gelato bar in the county.
Josephson says the store’s vast cheese selection comes in part thanks to scouting trips to Europe.
“It will be a selection you will never have seen before in Watsonville, by far,” he said.
Co-owner Jason Bazarnick praised his employees for their help in launching the new store.
“It was a monumental effort to get something like this off the ground,” he said. “Our crew is the best, and we love them and appreciate them so much. We can’t wait to be part of the community down here.”
Staff of Life is hiring for its Watsonville store. To apply, visit staffoflifemarket.com.
UPDATED Jan. 29, 7:30pm: This story was updated to reflect that Staff of Life is one of few independently owned natural grocery businesses in the county, but not the only.