Four Friends Follow Their Hearts
In 1970, four friends began operating a 1,300-square-foot health food store in the metro Los Angeles city of Canoga Park, Calif. They called the store “Follow Your Heart”, a name that summed up their business philosophy to always remain true to their ideals, even if doing so flew in the face of conventional retail wisdom. Two of the original founders, Michael Besancon and Spencer Windbiel, went their separate ways in 1985 (Besancon is now global head of Purchasing & Sourcing) but two others, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin, continue to run the company today. Over 40 years, one major move, one violent earthquake and a Whole Foods-dominated generation later, the store is still governed by the same principles, offering proof that following your heart can indeed lead to both personal and financial success.
It was the perfect name for the store because we were just doing what we were already doing, Goldberg says. The fact that it grew into a business and survived – that’s the surprising part.
In 1988, Goldberg and Lewin started Earth Island, which manufactures Follow Your Heart proprietary products like Vegenaise, an egg-free, dairy-free mayonnaise alternative, and Vegan Gourmet cheese alternatives, now found in grocery stores and restaurants across the country.
“We wanted to keep our retail operation small. But we also had a need to pay our bills and send our kids to school”, Goldberg says. “So we kept the one store [a second store in Santa Barbara was sold in 1997], and right here in the neighborhood we set up Earth Island, where we’re able to take our product to a much greater market without having to spend our lives on an airplane and change our lifestyle.”
Even in this venture, Goldberg and Lewin continue to follow their hearts: Earth Island’s manufacturing plant is powered by solar energy. Goldberg’s words of wisdom to other retailers:
Our advice is our name. Passion is absolutely at the center of success. And you can’t be passionate about something you don’t care deeply about. I think that’s why Follow Your Heart has had the measure of success that it’s had. Our objective was never to be a megastore, but a gem. Gems don’t have to be big to be really beautiful.