2010 is an exciting year for many reasons. It's the beginning of a new decade, the end of 2009 (thank goodness!) and it is the year Whole Foods Market celebrates our 30th birthday! In September of 1980, John Mackey and Renee Lawson opened Whole Foods Market on Lamar Street in Austin, Texas with a staff of 19.
We asked some of our team members who have been with us from the beginning, or practically the beginning, to share their favorite stories about those early days.
Peggy Hayes, now a Team Member at our Southwest Distribution Center, started working at the original Whole Foods Market in 1981, right before the flood that almost ended the whole business. She remembers that day:
On my fourth day of work, I got on my bicycle and headed to Whole Foods Market. The closer I got to the store, the more devastating the landscape looked. The flood had come through overnight and had risen as high as the street lights. Homes and businesses were ruined, all up Lamar Street. The inside of the store had turned into one big whirlpool. I was told employees would not be able to continue to work or be paid, that the store may not survive. I decided to stay and I found the best group of people and the most considerate group of leaders I had ever worked for. The kindness, trust and equality shown to all made a tremendous impression on me. We faced hard work and those who choose to stay were paid and as you know the store not only survived but thrived. It was great fun working in the original Whole Foods Market.
While Team Member Nathan Perry didn't start working for Whole Foods Market until 1996, he has memories from when his mother became a team member in 1981. (See if you can spot Nathan in the photo. Hint: he was 8 years old!) This is what he remembers about growing up with Whole Foods Market:
In 1981, my mom and I moved to Austin and she started working at the original Whole Foods on Lamar Street. I was eight years old. My favorite childhood memories of the store are the simple ones. I remember being excited about going to the store for an after-school snack at Martin Brothers Café (café inside the store); usually I'd have either a Strawberry Blonde smoothie or a turkey sandwich that came topped with bean sprouts and served with chips and salsa. I can picture myself sitting in the front of the store in the booths that lined the cafe, wearing socks to my knees, and watching customers and employees pass by the front end.
One person I remember seeing move through the front end of the store was Jimmie Turner. A smiling, dreadlocked man on roller skates in a grocery store communicating entirely in sign language can leave an impression on a young boy. Seeing Jimmie on skates interacting with others left me with a beautiful impression. This lovely man exuded an aura of love and happiness as he gracefully danced across the room engaging customers and Team Members alike. When Jimmie approached someone, he always looked them in the eye and greeted the person with a great big smile and a long hug. His spirit seemed to make the room shine.
Dave Hemphill, now a Team Leader on the Global Payroll Team, recalls his first meeting as a new team member when he joined the company in 1984.
Since I was a new employee, I decided to sit in the back where I could observe. There was one agenda item: a new policy that required store employees to wear a button with their name on it. One of the beautiful cashiers opened by saying, "I do not want everyone to know my name." The discussion grew very heated and no one believed there could be a positive outcome if Whole Foods adopted this "big brother" policy and if it did, it would surely be "the end."
Then I remember that a whisper started traveling through the crowd. It went "Renee is about to speak" or "Renee has something to say." Wondering who Renee was, I asked someone sitting next to me. "She is the Lamar store leader," they replied. The room grew quiet as people leaned forward to hear what Renee was going to say. I prepared myself for something profound.
Renee began to speak in a very quiet and faltering (and I mean really l-o-o-o-n-g pauses between certain words). As we all leaned forward and listened carefully Renee said "All this talk... ... ...(long pause)... ... ... makes me think... ... ... (long pause)... ... ... button... ... ... (long pause)... ... ... button... ... ... (long pause)... ... ... who's got the... ... ...button."
In a very extraordinary way, the button issue seemed totally diffused (or upstaged) and everyone in the room began laughing. The meeting was over. Going forward everyone at the store wore name buttons.
We'll be sharing more stories as we celebrate our 30th year. Thanks for being here with us! What are your favorite memories?