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Mother's Owes Its Start to Yoga Practitioners

February 03, 1989|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

The way the owners of the Mother's Market figure it, it takes all kinds.

According to them, the natural foods store in Costa Mesa is an alternative to supermarkets, but there is room for both in the grocery business.

"We're not an 'us-against-them' operation," says Bruce Macgurn, a founding member and chief executive officer of the 11-member board that owns and operates the Mother's Market & Kitchen in Costa Mesa and a second store of the same name in Huntington Beach. "Part of health is practicing harmony."

Mother's Market was the entrepreneurial offspring of a group of yoga enthusiasts who wanted to start a little business that would weave together their health and spiritual beliefs. That was 1978.

Now, more than a decade later, that store has quadrupled in size and spawned the sister store in Huntington Beach. As the public's concern for health and fitness has grown, so have the number of customers drawn to Mother's organic produce and herbal concoctions. After all, there aren't too many places to pick up barberry root bark and fresh seaweed.

According to the National Nutritional Foods Assn., a health foods trade group, Mother's Market is the only one of its scope in the county and has succeeded in carving its own niche in the grocery industry.

"They are one of the largest and most up-to-date of its kind that I know of in the country," says Burton Kallman, director of science and technology for the association.

Back in 1978, it was the spiritual side of the business that appealed to Macgurn, 48. His wife, Sharon, vice president, was attracted to the health aspects of the operation.

"My wife had taken us off meat without consulting me," Macgurn says with a slight sneer. "I am more typical of the average American--I'm not a health nut." But he says his interest in yoga kindled a concern for nutrition, and he wanted a business in which he could put his previous sales experience to work.

"Nutrition is a science of mind, body and spirit," he says. It develops "a more enlightened life, a mental life that is clearer. Nutrition plays a role in all that."

The market was named after Macgurn's mother, who was among the founding members and who died 2 years ago. But now the group prefers the moniker's more universal connotation.

"Now the name mother is more cosmic in its implications," Macgurn explains. The company's leaflets, distributed free at the stores, have nutrition tips from "Mother" and little hearts with "Mother loves you" on them. The owners want you to feel that the store, just like mom, is taking good care of you.

Typical customers are shoppers keen on nutrition, but also people with allergies, cancer and diabetes, as well as folks with specific health needs that can't be met by other grocery stores, according to the Macgurns.

For these customers, the store stocks taro root and wheat grass (reputed to cleanse the body), wheat-free breads and lactose-free dairy products for those with allergies, and thousands of vitamins and herbs: papaya enzymes, slippery elm, suma root, myrrh and elder flowers.

"This is not a replacement for the supermarket or the mom-and-pop Circle K," Macgurn says. "Our customers are very different, but what brings them together is their concern for nutritional foods, without additives and grown without pesticides. Not that there's anything wrong with the supermarkets; I wouldn't buy my toilet paper anywhere else."

Dressed in Bermuda shorts and sneakers, he darts about the Costa Mesa store, checking incoming stock before he dashes off to an exercise workout. His wife, a tall, 45-year-old woman with long hair, greets customers as she leads a visitor through the store.

Gesturing toward the store's produce department, she says the day's stock includes 25 organically grown vegetables and six organically grown fruits. The organic produce is certified by a trade group called California Certified Organic Farmers, which ensures that the crops have not been grown in soil treated with synthetic pesticides. A slightly smaller version of the Costa Mesa store, the 7-year-old Huntington Beach Mother's carries the same kind of merchandise. Because the stores stock small numbers of a wide variety of items, inventory is enormous, estimated by Bruce Macgurn at about $400,000 worth of stock at any one time. He says about 1,400 customers appear in the Costa Mesa store on most days.

Although frozen poultry is sold year-round and fresh turkeys are available during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, no meats are sold. The exception to the no-meat policy is found at the Huntington Beach store's cafe, where turkey sandwiches are popular.

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