Edible Monterey Bay

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Staff of Life Celebrates 50th Anniversary

May 16, 2019 – How do you sum up 50 years of resounding success in a local food business? With a really great party, of course. And you’re invited to help celebrate Staff of Life’s 50thanniversary at the pioneering natural food store in Santa Cruz on Saturday, May 18 from 12:30pm to 4:30pm.

A lot has changed in the natural and organic foods movement since Staff of Life first opened its doors in 1969, but it all started with the humble act of baking bread—and it grew slowly but surely.

Founding partners Gary Bascou and Richard Josephson have been in the forefront of the trend towards natural and organic food for half a century. Over those years, as their business partnered with and grew alongside local community farms and influential groups like California Certified Organic Farmers, Josephson and Bascou have built a venerable temple to the food movement. And you can shop there. 

Their flagship store on Soquel Avenue is a Certified Green Business and a Clean Ocean Business among other designations, one that employs 104 people, and has, over the past 6 years, donated over $100,000 to the community’s local non-profits and schools. 

Bascou and Josephson at one of the store’s earliest birthday parties

Richard Josephson chalks it up to perseverance, “From the very early days, this was our passion. I said to myself, ‘I’m in this. And this is my only option, so I’m in it for the duration.’ Tenacity isn’t everything in business, but it’s an important part of the action.”

According to Josephson, Staff of Life’s story of success is really one of community. 

“From janitor to management team, we have the best staff that we’ve ever had. So it’s real simple: Without our customer base and our whole team, we simply wouldn’t be here,” he says.

Edible Monterey Baygot a quick peek at how this works earlier this year when we interviewed César Olivares before he left for France to prepare for the premier international cheesemongers’ competition. 

César was graciously, happily even, given two weeks off from his position as head of two departments in the store to travel abroad in order to prepare for even more time off in June for the final competition. Hours before jetting off, he shared a lovely sampler platter with a few lucky visitors at the store’s community table, but more on that later. 

Cheese department and gourmet foods manager César Olivares

Staff of Life also made the right move at the right time—their 2011 relocation across the street from their original spot was a game-changer. 

“After the move to this state-of-the-art building, it became a case of success breeds success,” says Josephson, explaining how they continue to recruit top talent like Olivares. And the store, front and back, is pristine.

Of the many things that communications manager Hollie Wendt loves about working at Staff of Life is her employers’ commitment to the environment. During her first tour of the store with Bascou, they paused in the bulk aisle. 

“Gary was just so passionate, and about something as simple as bringing your own containers. There was an urgency to his message—how it’s all connected—and if we don’t do something right now, we’re not going have the world we know for future generations,” says Wendt.

As Josephson noted, they also enjoy the long-time support of a loyal and committed community. 

David Thiermann, career counsellor and long-time Staff of Life shopper is an example.

“Oh, yes. He eats here every day,” Josephson says with a smile. “At the community table.”

Thiermann praises Bascou and Josephson for their early commitment to the natural foods movement. 

“They’ve never wavered,” Thiermann says. 

“I actually do come here every day for lunch,” he says. “And I’ve been doing so for decades.” 

“It’s one of the healthiest places in Santa Cruz, regardless of how you define health—the many departments at Staff of Life each now carry the best of everything—and you can trust that. But for me, it’s laughter, and feeling like I’m part of the family. I love the community table. I meet new people at that community table all the time. And frankly, this is the best food in Santa Cruz.” 

Like the best of community parties, this Saturday’s offers more than a few reasons to celebrate. 

Staff of Life is set to open a second location in Watsonville, early next year, at the East Lake Village Shopping Center and almost as big as their Soquel Avenue space. The new store will employ close to the same number of people—new jobs in the Watsonville area—and that much closer to where most of the food we eat is grown. How cool is that?

How to manage that kind of growth at this 50-year mark in the game is the ultimate small-business dilemma—the question of legacy. How on earth to pass the baton. 

According to Josephson it’s been a natural evolution. 

“Watsonville and Santa Cruz, we’re all part of the same family—but we wouldn’t do this if we hadn’t already brought on the next generation at Staff of Life. With Jason on board we feel real confident in the future,” he says.

Jason Bazarnick, a graduate of UCSC and UCLA Law School, has been with Staff of Life for 4 years, and is now a part owner. Having recognized his own passion for the business, Jason has been groomed for future stewardship, and he’s astutely managing the growth that necessarily comes with that brand-new second location, without sacrificing the prime directives. 

And he has the backing of the many team members like Olivares, whose burgeoning and yet rather astounding careers Bascou and Josephson helped to foster.

What are Josephson’s pain points, right now?

It almost circles around to the very beginning: He’s looking for a new baker. Staff of Life currently has three amazing bakers, and they need four. A fourth baker would allow them to supply the almost endless demand for their baked goods, which they run out of early, every single day. 

Aspiring millers and pounders out there, by all means, drop by on Saturday.

Who remembers the first Staff of Life store?

You want to party with these guys. But don’t take my word for it—their press release gives you a hint:

“Come celebrate with us in marking 50 years of Staff of Life’s doing what we do—rain or shine!

“We’re so grateful to be able to feature free product samples and tastings from over 110 [!] of Staff of Life’s top suppliers. There will be wine and beer tastings (for a small glass fee), cosmetic makeovers, kids’ activities, face painting, vitamin and supplement samples, and complimentary, all-natural BBQ sampling from Staff of Life Natural Meats.

“Some of these store favorites include Maryanne’s Ice Cream,Luke’s ChipsFarmhouse CultureAncient NutritionDiscretion BrewerySanta Cruz Animal ServicesDouble Rainbow Ice CreamStorrs WineryKevitaMonterey Bay Nursery,Big Basin WinerySanta Cruz Mountain BrewingAlfaro WinesLifeAidTheresa’s Salsa,Sunridge FarmsElizabeth Van BurenNordic Naturals, and many more.”

Reason enough.

We’ll be there to celebrate this venerable history! And dancing and free samples [110!], rain or shine. 

What more could one want? 

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