Extending the Family with Knowledge and Warmth
Feb 08, 2014 01:51AM
By Beth Davis
Garden Gate Natural Foods, Inc. is not a new kid on the block. In fact, this health food specialty store has operated in the same location for 65 years—no small feat for any business. What is it about the oldest—and smallest, at 800 square feet—health food store in Allentown that makes it thrive? For starters, passion, dedication and a commitment to customers.
The original Garden Gate building was constructed in the early 1900s and housed a dress shop until the late 1940s, when it became a health food store. Current owner and CEO Rich Samar purchased the store 26 years ago, on February 1, 1988. At the time, he was working in the corporate office at PPL, but had always wanted to be a business owner. One day while eating his lunch, he began looking over the businesses that were for sale in the local newspaper and noticed a listing for a downtown natural food store. One month later, he was the proud owner. After 35 years, he took an early retirement from PPL to help run the store with his family and partner, Sally Harris. Samar says the move changed his life—and he’s never looked back.
Natural, healthy living had always been on Samar’s radar. With a family history of heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure, Samar became aware of the importance of healthy living early on. As a teen, he began taking vitamins and supplements, which became a way of life for him. His uncle, who became a vegetarian in 1954, particularly influenced him. “He lived in Washington D.C., and when he would come for a visit, my two cousins and I would be excited to see what Uncle Stevie would bring to eat on this trip. He was the one who truly opened my eyes to trying something different.”
Today, he and his staff try to do their part to open the eyes of others by sharing knowledge and information that is crucial to good health. That means spending as much time as necessary with customers. “When a customer comes into our store we take the time to show them around so they know what we have,” he explains. Patrons will find a wide array of products including vitamins, supplements, herbs, personal care and frozen and refrigerated items. They have a selection of ready-to-eat vegetarian sandwiches and salads, organic produce, raw cow and goat milks, meats and cheeses and assorted gluten-free products. “In a nut shell, we have a lot of what the big box stores do not have,” notes Samar.
Personal service is a priority at Garden Gate. If they don’t have a product customers want, they will do their best to order it for find something comparable—a simple gesture, but one that seems rare these days.
Samar says that in order to sell something, one must have two very important things: one must believe in and know their products and it has to be a lifestyle one follows. That’s not a problem for the folks at Garden Gate. Collectively, he and his team have about 100 plus years of using and believing in natural products. This has been their way of life and they’re happy to share. To help spread the message and assist patrons in making better lifestyle choices, they even insert informative articles into shopping bags.
While they work hard to provide outstanding service and an inviting atmosphere, Samar credits much of the store’s success to its customers. “Over the 26 years since I’ve purchased Garden Gate, I have been so fortunate to meet so many exciting people that have shared so much knowledge and warmth. This store over the many years has allowed me to have an extended family of many brothers and sisters and to watch them all grow up.
“Sally, my mother and I believe 100 percent that our customers are why we are here this long,” he states. “When people come into our store it is such a warm feeling to just say ‘Hi’ and see the smile on their face. The mom and pop stores, so to speak, are the backbone of what America is about.”
Although owning a small business is not easy, Samar says the rewards are more than worth it. “I leave after the end of the day and I feel good inside knowing I am very fortunate to be able to do this. It’s a job that you never get bored. For me, it’s having a goal and a dream and working toward it every day. Like the rising and setting of the sun, each day is a new day—one filled with surprises!”
Garden Gate Natural Foods, Inc. is located at 17 S 9th St., in Allentown. They are open every day and accept all major credit and SNAP/EBT cards. For more information, call 610-433-8891.