Nourishing the Community with Healthy Alternatives
Oct 31, 2017 02:26PM
By Sheila Julson
Dianne and Lloyd Burg were health foods visionaries when they opened Healthy Alternatives natural food store in 1994. At that time, organic foods were a rarity at most grocers, and few people knew what Echinacea was. Over the decades, the Burgs shared their knowledge of healthy products with the community and continue today to provide the Trexlertown area with certified organic and locally sourced produce and dairy, quality supplements, natural healthy and beauty items and shelf stable goods. Always thinking forward, in 2011 the Burgs added Café Santosha, operated by their daughter, Sarah Collins. There, customers can find healthy, scratch-made soups, sandwiches and more.
Prior to opening Healthy Alternatives, Dianne was registered nurse and dealt with various health problems since she was in nursing school. “During that time, I had a roommate that also had health issues, and we just realized that going through traditional means was not making us feel better,” she recalls, “I wanted to find healthy alternatives to get well.”
She began researching herbs, supplements, nutrition and whole foods. She noticed that she always felt better when she ate fresh foods and took the correct supplements. Seeing the positive affects that common sense preventative approaches made in own health was an awakening to reconsider her career. “Being a nurse was something that I wanted to do from childhood on, but once I was in the nursing profession, I realized that I wasn’t really helping people get well,” she reflects. “I just branched off and started studying nutrition and homeopathy, and taking nutrition courses, and Healthy Alternatives was born from that.”
Lloyd always worked in supermarkets as a young man and studied business at Bucks County Community College, so he applied his business savvy toward the couple’s plan. They chose Trexlertown because they observed growth in the area. When they first opened the 1,900 square foot store, they stocked primarily supplements and some shelf-stable items. They didn’t initially offer produce, but they quickly realized there weren’t many places to find organic produce at the time, so adding a produce department to Healthy Alternatives was a natural fit.
“We have a beautiful organic produce department,” Dianne says. They get much of their certified organic produce from Salvaterra’s Gardens, a short distance from Trexeltown. “We don’t carry conventionally grown produce—our entire product case is all organic. We really support a lot of local farmers, and they bring their fruits and vegetables to us. We also work with lots of local farmers to offer organic meats, chickens, raw milk and goat milk.” Healthy Alternatives also carries dry goods, tea, pastas, cereal, eggs, cheese, yogurt, frozen goods, bakery and bread from two area bakers, The Wayfare Baker, which delivers a variety of fresh sourdough breads every Wednesday; and fresh-baked bread from a Philadelphia- based bread consortium.
Healthy Alternatives carries only high quality supplements including Gaia Herbs, Nature’s Way, Solgar, Carlson Labs and Nature’s Plus. With cold and flu season approaching, Dianne notes there’s a demand for elderberry, an antiviral herb.
Healthy Alternatives carries elderberry products such as syrup, gummies, tea and tinctures. Echinacea, vitamin D and digestive support such as probiotics are also popular as people become aware of how natural products can help keep them well.
The knowledgeable staff at Healthy Alternatives can help people choose the best products for their health needs, which is something that Dianne says sets their store apart from the competition. “Our employees are awesome,” she enthuses. “We always have someone in the store that can answer questions and provide guidance about supplements.”
Despite competition from larger, publically traded natural food stores such as Whole Foods, Dianne emphasizes that the personalized service and family ambiance that can only be found at small businesses like Healthy Alternatives. “If you walk in our store when you’re in a bad mood, by the time you walk out, you’re really feeling good; the store has really wonderful energy. We’ve been here for 24 years and we’re really connected to the neighborhood. Our customer’s children have grown up and now come in with their own children.”
The addition of Café Santosha has drawn more business as word is getting around about Collins’ tasty creations. She grew up working in the store and was influenced by the healthy lifestyles of her parents. With a natural knack for cooking and a creative flair for crafting healthy recipes, she made food for the store’s to-go case. The fresh food was a hit with customers, so adding a café was a logical next step.
The café, which seats 30, was built with eco-conscious materials such as flax floors and repurposed wood from local barns. Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., customers can dine in or get take-out food packaged in compostable containers.
Collins and her five employees use as many local and organic ingredients as possible. Two homemade soups are offered daily, and there are rotating seasonal menus. Fall specials include a salad of mixed greens, local raw kale, chiligarlic chickpeas, roasted sweet potatoes, toasted hazelnuts, raw green apple and avocado, topped with creamy misomustard vinaigrette. The Gratin entrée is made with roasted butternut squash, apples and leeks, seasoned with sage and served over kale.
The menu is largely vegetarian, but omnivores can find some choices with meat. Customers can also choose unique items such as Kraut Grilled Cheese or Open-Faced Salmon sandwiches. Breakfast is served all day. A gluten-free, coconut milk rice pudding is available if one wants dessert, and the food can be washed down with a gluten-free pumpkin spice latte, complementary spring water, a beverage from the cooler or kombucha or kefir on tap; the latter two available in the store.
Collins also makes muffin and scones, all made with less sugar than most baked goods. She uses organic fruit and nuts. The café has an open setting where customers can watch their food being prepared. Collins also offers demo dinner nights, which feature a five-course, all vegetarian dinner. Attendees can observe and learn as Collins cooks, and they can also browse in the store. The tables are rearranged into family style seating.
“We have five women working here and were like a little family, and very supportive of each other,” Collins says. “We have personal touches like flowers from my mom’s garden arranged on the tables.”
The Burg family believes those personal elements help make local businesses key to the economy and the community. “Having the café really rounds us out,” Dianne says. “Healthy eating is a way of life, and a lifestyle we live. A lot of people who own health food stores that don’t live the life. We’re sharing our knowledge and commitment to community as a whole, and that’s a real motivation.”
Healthy Alternatives and Café Santosha is located at 7150 Hamilton Blvd., Trexlertown. For more information, call 610-366-9866 (Healthy Alternatives), 610-366-1711 (Café Santosha) or visit HealthyAlt.com.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.