History of Erewhon - Natural Foods Pioneer in the United States (1966-2011)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-33-4

Publication Date: 2011 April 4

Number of References in Bibliography: 416

Earliest Reference: 1966

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Brief chronology of Erewhon Trading Co.

 1966 April 9 – Erewhon opens as a small (10- by 20-foot) macrobiotic and natural foods retail store at 303-B Newbury Street (below street level) in Boston. Aveline and Michio Kushi are the founders, but Aveline is the sole owner. Evan Root is the first retail store manager. The origin of the second natural foods industry and movement in America can be traced to this date. Erewhon is the first store of its kind in America and it soon serves as a model for many other similar natural food stores across the nation. Erewhon sells several soyfoods, mainly miso and shoyu purchased from Howard Rower's Infinity Foods or Japan Foods Corp., both in New York.
 
1967 Aug. – Paul Hawken takes over the management of Erewhon (one small retail store) from Evan Root. He changes the name to Erewhon Trading Co. (from simply "Erewhon") and starts to expand the business.
 
1968 May – Paul Hawken incorporates Erewhon Trading Company. Paul later states that he and Aveline Kushi each own 50% of the stock. However Aveline Kushi and her attorney, Morris Kirsner, agree that they offered him 50% of the Erewhon stock shortly before he left for Japan (in March 1969) but he did not accept it. To this day (Feb. 1999) Aveline has no idea why Paul did not accept such a generous offer.
 
1968 June – Hawken establishes his first supplier of organically grown grains, Ted Whitmer, a wheat farmer in Montana. By 1973 Erewhon had established and contracted with 57 farms in 35 states to provide the company directly with organically-grown foods.
 
1968 Aug. – Erewhon starts to import foods from Japan, initially from Muso Shokuhin, later by correspondence with Mr. Akiyoshi Kazama, who worked for an import/export company named Mitoku, which sold no food at the time. The initial orders contained red miso (made by Sendai Miso Shoyu Co.) and natural shoyu (made by Marushima).
 
1968 Nov. – On Thanksgiving day, Erewhon moves up and across the street to a much bigger and nicer location at 342 Newbury St. Paul had hired Bruce Macdonald, a carpenter, to remodel this store. The company now has 6 employees: Paul Hawken, Roger Hillyard, Bruce Macdonald, Bill Tara, Jim Docker, and Jean Allison. One day later, Bill Tara leaves to start a macrobiotic East West Center in Chicago. The original downstairs room is taken over by Tao Books, then Redwing Books. Tofu, curded with calcium sulfate and made by a Chinese company in Boston, starts to be sold.
 
1969 March – Paul Hawken and Evan Root leave for Japan. Bruce Macdonald takes over as general manager of Erewhon. Paul stays in Japan for 9 months, arranging for individual packaging of products that were formerly imported in bulk, and finding new items for Erewhon to import. He visits suppliers, works with Mitoku and Muso, and studies Japanese language and culture.
 
1969 spring – Erewhon starts wholesaling foods, under the direction of Bruce Macdonald. Their first wholesale product is natural sesame oil.
 
1969 Aug. – Aveline Kushi moves to Los Angeles where her youngest son, Hisao, undergoes traditional Japanese bone massage therapy. In Los Angeles, she establishes the first macrobiotic study house at 7511 Franklin Ave. Bill Tara arrives about a month later to set up a retail store, Erewhon West, which opens on 8001 Beverly Blvd. in about September.
 
1969 Oct. (early) – Bruce Macdonald leaves for Los Angeles with his new bride, Maureen Traill, to run the new Erewhon West retail store there. Roger Hillyard takes over as general manager of Erewhon in Boston.
 
1970 Jan. 1 – Erewhon's earliest existing catalogue seen (wholesale and retail) lists 7 pages of natural food products–most of them imported from Japan. By March 1970 Erewhon lists 96 products in its catalog.
 
1970 July – Erewhon's rapidly expanding distribution business moves into a large (20,000 square feet) fifth-floor leased brick warehouse at 33 Farnsworth St., on the docks in South Boston. East West Journal and Tao Books soon move to the same area.
 
1970 fall – Erewhon receives its first shipment of brown rice from the Lundberg brothers in Richvale, California; it is "unsprayed" but not organic. Chico-San has exclusive rights to all Lundberg's organic brown rice.
 
1971 Jan. – East West Journal begins publication in Boston, Massachusetts.
 
1971 – Erewhon West (in Los Angeles) has expanded and is now at 8001 and 8003 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.
 
1971 March – Roger Hillyard is replaced as general manager of Erewhon–Boston.
 
1971 March – Paul Hawken finalizes a contract with Carl Garrich of Lone Pine, Arkansas, to grow short-grain brown rice organically and exclusively for Erewhon. 330 acres are planted in April. That fall, Erewhon starts to retail and wholesale its first organic brown rice.
 
1971 May – Bruce Macdonald leaves Erewhon in a dispute over ownership of the company.
 
1972 – John W. Deming Jr. plans to invest $150,000 in Erewhon in exchange for stock, and Advest Co. plans to conduct Erewhon's first public stock offering–but neither happens after Michio Kushi nixes the plans.
 
1972 fall – Erewhon first buys organic brown rice from Lundberg brothers of California; a fire that destroyed Chico-San's plant in early Aug. 1972 rendered their exclusive contract with the Lundbergs null and void.
 
1973 Aug. – Paul Hawken writes a critical history of Erewhon and its problems. Published in East West Journal it is titled "Erewhon: A Biography. The View Within." Shortly thereafter Paul Hawken resigns, saying that running Erewhon was a nightmare. Some say he sells his 25% ownership back to the company, which was subsequently managed by Bill Garrison, Tyler Smith, Jeff Flasher, and Tom Williams, in that sequence.
 
1974 July to 1977 – Erewhon becomes the exclusive representative and agent for both the Muso and Mitoku companies in North America. The labels of all products imported from these companies must bear the Erewhon label. Starting in late 1969 a number of macrobiotic and/or natural foods companies grew into distributors following the models established by and with help from Erewhon: Eden Organic Foods in Ann Arbor (started by Bill Bolduc on 4 Nov. 1969), Food for Life (started in 1970 by Bill Tara as a retail store on the 10th floor of a Chicago office building), Janus in Seattle, Washington (Jan. 1972, by George Gearhart and Blake Rankin, formerly of Spiral Foods), Essene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (by Feb. 1971), Laurelbrook in Maryland (Aug. 1971), Ceres in Colorado Springs (1973), and The Well in San Jose, California (1973, by Phil Parenti). These macrobiotic distributors had a strong influence on the numerous other non-macrobiotic natural food distributors, such as Lifestream (started in 1969 as a retail store), Westbrae in Berkeley, California (wholesale distribution: July 1970, by Bob Gerner; retail: Feb. 1971, Gerner). Shadowfax (New York, 1971), and Tree of Life in St. Augustine, Florida (retail: May 1971; wholesale distribution: Feb. 1972, by Irwin Carasso).
 
1975 Aug. 1 – Erewhon sells all of its West Coast Division in California (Los Angeles and Culver City) to John Fountain and John Deming for cash and notes, realizing a net gain of $86,872.
 
1977 March 23 – Erewhon sues natural foods retail stores in several states for boycotting Erewhon for selling to co-ops. Erewhon eventually wins the case, but its legal bills are something like $250,000. There was not enough money to pay these fees and Erewhon never recovered.
 
1978 (early) – Erewhon moves into a huge warehouse and office complex at 3 East St., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141.
 
1979 April 27 – The workers in Erewhon's production, trucking, shipping, and kitchen departments vote 42-19 to form a union affiliated with Local 925, the Service Employees International Union.
 
1979 – John Deming steps in to liquidate all the assets of financially failing Erewhon–Los Angeles. Tom DeSilva, Tyler Smith, and Jeff Flasher buy the retail store at 8001 Beverly Blvd.
 
1981 Feb. – Erewhon currently lists 4,000 products in its catalog–in its bid to become a full-line distributor. It services 2,000 customers and provides jobs for 175 people in its warehouse and retail stores.
 
1981 Nov. 10 – Erewhon files for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act because of debts totaling $4.3 million. At this time, Aveline Kushi is the sole owner of Erewhon. Stow Mills picked up the lion's share of the Erewhon business, with Westbrae also getting a significant part of it.
 
1982 May – A $1.3 million offer by Ronald Rossetti, president of Nature Food Centres, is accepted as the reorganization plan in the Erewhon, Inc. bankruptcy. Rossetti purchased Erewhon as an individual; it was never part of Nature Food Centres.
 
1986 – Erewhon acquires U.S. Mills, which had been founded in 1908. In effect U.S. Mills and Erewhon were merged, and U.S. Mills was chosen as the corporate name, largely since it had been around longer.
 
1988 May – Chuck Verde (who was the president of Erewhon) and Cynthia Davis acquired the U.S. Mills / Erewhon business. They became the main joint shareholders.

 

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