When you get your lunch at the drive-through window at 3542 S. Peoria Ave. in Tulsa, Okla., your bag won?t have a hamburger or fries in it. Instead you might find an organic salad with locally grown veggies or an organic chicken sandwich. That?s because it?s no longer the drive-through window for Wendy?s fast food, but rather for Organic, a natural food market and café.
In March 2004, when Anner Stone and Jill Donnelly decided to become partners in a natural foods enterprise, the empty Wendy?s beckoned to them. ?We just had to redefine what they were doing,? Donnelly says. And the ripe location on Tulsa?s main artery was the perfect place to offer healthy, organic food to residents. ?People don?t have any idea that there?s an option like this in town. We felt like we needed to bring [natural foods] to the masses,? Donnelly says.
Organic is more than just a café and marketplace: It?s a bakery, a produce and meat co-op, an elegant restaurant on weekends and, of course, a drive-through where customers can get anything the store offers. ?That?s the beauty of it. It?s beautiful for people with kids in the car or who are handicapped but want to nurture their bodies,? Donnelly says.
The store?s co-op program is its easiest and most lucrative—it grosses about $12,000 a month. Members come on Thursdays to pick up (yes, at the drive-through if they want) a bag of organic produce or meat and starches complete with recipe ideas for the contents of that week?s bag. Most of the year, the produce is procured from a national distributor, but in summer months Organic tries to fill the bags with local produce. Each week, about 90 of the co-op?s 400 members buy a bag?but members are not obligated to participate every week. More often than not, customers will ask to have some muffins and grocery items thrown into their bags as well, she says.
Organic?s market consists of less than 500 square feet, but carries ?everything you need to stock a basic pantry,? Donnelly says. She and Stone taste all the market?s products and pick only the best. ?We carry one kind of tomato sauce,? she says. Among the commodities shoppers will find are the store?s own line of products called Anner?s, which are made by Stone and include organic marinara sauce and a veggie chili kit. ?You don?t have to walk around a 10,000-square-foot grocery store to get items to make dinner,? Donnelly says. ?We?re all about making your life easier.?
At the café, open daily for lunch, and Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner, Donnelly and Stone try to keep things simple by offering homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza with 100 percent organic ingredients when possible. ?We don?t want anything intimidating,? Donnelly says. ?We want people to know that you can eat the same way [to be healthy]; you just have to tweak it a little bit.? On the weekends, they break out the linen napkins and serve organic red meat dishes or chicken and fish paired with organic wines and beer. Again, nothing fancy—just down-home cooking with a healthy twist, Donnelly says.
The bakery is run by Stone, who has owned local restaurants for the past 15 years and knows the art of baking. ?Most whole-grain breads are like lead, but Anner is a master. She can make them light and delicate,? Donnelly says. What?s the bakery?s best seller? The power muffin. ?It?s the most delicious muffin you?ve ever eaten, and it contains a full day?s fiber,? Donnelly says. Other offerings include Big Bird bread—with millet, flax and sunflower seeds—and sesame and pumpkin seed cookies.
Although Tulsa may seem like an unusual place to plant the seed for a natural market and café chain, Donnelly hopes that one day Organics will dot the globe. She believes Organic is a cookie-cutter business that could easily be duplicated. ?We?d love to franchise it. I think that it?s really possible; what we?re doing is really simple, nothing esoteric, just middle-of-the-road healthy,? she says.
But before expanding, she realizes that Organic needs to make it in Tulsa. Why begin in Tulsa and not a more natural product-friendly town? ?Anner and I were raised here; we?re not leaving,? Donnelly says. ?Plus, if we can make it in Tulsa, we can make it anywhere.?
And making it in Tulsa does not come easy for a retail outlet sporting the name Organic. ?Tulsa?s about four years behind everywhere else,? Donnelly says. ?A lot of people think that organic means tofu and seaweed.? But Donnelly and Stone are determined to bring their message to Tulsa residents. ?I believe that you can make anything happen with effort and energy,? Donnelly says.
And there?s no lack of effort at Organic. The only full-time employees are Donnelly, Stone and Stone?s husband, Ed. ?We work our tushies off,? Donnelly says. None of them have received a paycheck since Organic?s opening day more than a year ago. ?But we eat good!? Donnelly says.
Currently, Organic relies on word-of-mouth advertising. ?We did a TV commercial a while back but received virtually no business, just people calling to see if we took food stamps,? Donnelly says. But business has grown exponentially in the past year via word-of-mouth, she says.
Perhaps more than effort and energy, altruism is the driving force at Organic. ?We?re three little people struggling because we?re in the highest rent district in town just so we can get the word out there to help people,? Donnelly says. ?Obviously, I?d love to get rich and famous and spread my word all over, but I?m just really happy changing people?s lives one at a time.?
Anna Soref is a freelance writer in Lafayette, Colo.