Debbie Croft: Health food store finds fertile ground in Mariposa

10/25/2013 9:30 PM

10/25/2013 9:54 PM

When Bob Pickard arrives at work every morning, the first thing he does is go to the juice bar.

“Carrot juice with a shot of wheatgrass perks me right up,” he said.

High Country Health Foods and Cafe recently got an extreme makeover. With a new juice bar and triple the amount of space, the response from Mariposa customers has been overwhelming.

Owners Bob and Paula Pickard couldn’t be happier.

“After 25 years you’d think we would be slowing down,” Paula said. “But now we’re busier than we’ve ever been.”

She’s not complaining, though.

Mariposa’s only health food store opened in the 1980s. During its infancy, The Apple Cart was a small shop of only a few hundred square feet.

In 1988 the Pickards bought it, and three years later they moved into the 49er Shopping Center.

“That’s when we opened a small sandwich shop,” Bob said.

Sometimes he’d bring in local musicians to play.

As soon as the space next door became vacant, they signed the lease, expanding the store to 1,200 feet. Soon a cafe was added.

Now a little more than 20 years later, High Country has moved again: this time into a dilapidated building that once housed county offices and needed a huge renovation. But it was worth it.

Inside the new store, spacious aisles, a larger selection, two cashiers and several grocery carts serve customers well. A long bank of windows in the cafe brings in daylight, making the dining area more cheerful. Almost 20 booths and tables, plus expanded hours, offer folks greater opportunity to sit down and stay awhile.

Bob is most proud of the state-of-the-art kitchen.

“I wanted people to see their food being prepared. It instills confidence in customers and encourages employees to keep it clean.”

The kitchen includes new refrigeration units, a large range hood, refrigerated work tables and a new grab-and-go display case for sandwiches and more.

Not wanting to overwhelm his staff, he kept the same menu from the old cafe, but plans to add new items slowly.

The Pickards now carry more ethnic foods, baby and pet products and additional brands in every department, giving customers a greater selection of food that’s good for them. Plus, practically anything can be special ordered.

They’re planning to enlarge the cosmetics department, as well.

With a society becoming more health-conscious, the couple is pleased at how many companies are improving their products.

“Today there are better choices and higher quality,” Bob stated.

Everything on the shelves and on the menu at High Country is organic and non-GMO (genetically modified), including produce. And purchasing is done locally as much as possible.

With the move, staff increased from five employees to 13. Knowing they’re providing additional employment in the small town is an added bonus. Bob is also proud of his team behind the counter, and how well they work together.

The Pickards’ two kids worked in the store through high school. Daughter Laurel has been an employee for seven years. College courses in nutrition have really helped her, she said.

A pet wellness event will be held at High Country on Tuesday. Dr. Eileen Bissmeyer of Mariposa’s All Creatures Veterinary Hospital and Joni Kamlet, a veterinary representative with Standard Process Whole Food Supplements, will conduct an informational program from 5:30 to 7:30p.m.

More details about the event are available at Call (209)966-5111 or stop by at 5186 Highway 49 North.

It opened Sept. 7, but they’re targeting Earth Day of March 2014 for an official grand opening.

Bob said, “During the construction phase my dad asked me, ‘What’s your goal? What kind of response are you hoping for?’”

“I just want people to say, ‘Wow!’ I told him. And now when customers walk in, that’s exactly what we’re hearing,” he said with a smile. “Mission accomplished.”

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