If you know Debra Stark, owner of Massachusetts-based Debra’s Natural Gourmet, you know she serves up natural food and products with a smile—and a sense of humor. In her new book, "The Little Shop That Could: A Retailer’s Love Affair with Community and Food," Stark offers 30 years’ worth of inspirational and sometimes wacky tales of her time in the industry. Get a taste of what to expect here.
New Hope Network: Why did you decide to write a book?
Debra Stark: When I got the call from New Hope Network in 2016 that I had won a Natural Products Industry Legend Award, I realized, this means I’m officially old! So, based on that feeling of being officially old, and having been brought up in this industry, it seemed after 30 years I had all these stories that wanted to be told, and I wanted to help the industry see themselves through my eyes.
I wanted the community to bear witness to what we had gone through to get to this point and, plus, there had been really funny things that happened. The book covers everything from what it was like for me growing up with natural foods, to the early days of the store, our customers and staff through the years, my TV show, and the industry.
What does your book say about the natural products industry?
DS: I think this industry is so different from others out there. We are not about selling shoes, although I love shoes. We’re not about filling a car with a tank of gas, though I need to do that too. We are so different from that. We have people taking on sustainability causes, taking on causes of soil health, and every one of our stores lives these causes.
Every one of our stores is working to help lower healthcare costs in this country. And while we are beloved in our various communities, we can do a much better job at selling ourselves as a force for social change. That’s what I wanted this book to do. And I wanted to do that with a sense of humor.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
DS: It depends on the reader. I hope that people on the board of health in town will look at plastic gloves and cutting boards in a different way. I hope that people in town read the book and are proud of us. I want the wider media to get interested in this industry. And, regardless of the reader, I want everyone to know how wonderful this industry is and how much we love going to the shows.
As far as our customers who are reading it now, they keep coming back and saying they thought they knew everything about our business, and now they know more and can see behind the scenes. And that they were laughing like crazy.
"The Little Shop That Could: A Retailer’s Love Affair with Community and Food" is available for purchase on Facebook now.