By Steve Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 30, 2003
HAMPTON - Twenty years ago Fran Foster, an amateur gardener, noticed that feeding her garden plants organic fertilizers resulted in healthy, rigorous growth.
"I saw the importance of giving plants organic food rather than synthetic," she recalled this week.
That made her think: "Could the same be true for people?"
So in 1983 Foster opened a health food store in Hampton, the first in the area. "People thought I was nuts, that it would never work," she said.
Twenty years later Hampton Natural Foods is still alive, and Foster has moved to larger quarters to satisfy a growing clientele, both in quantity and quality.
Hampton Natural Foods, which started in a side storefront at the Hampton Cinemas, has relocated to 580 Lafayette Road, across Route 1 from Bemister's Pools & Spas. The new location offers Foster 20 percent more space, room enough for a full-fledged kitchen, a food bar and, this spring, outdoor picnic tables.
"We hope to do more food service, soups and salads, for both take-out and eat-in. We'll start offering a food bar where people can eat here, and of course we'll have more shelf space," Foster said Saturday while stocking shelves. The store made a "soft" opening this weekend. Foster hopes to have a grand opening, but not for a few weeks, as she and her crew get the new place stocked, and up and running.
"This will be a work in progress for a few weeks," Foster said.
The health food market, while a growth industry, is not financially lucrative on the small scale Foster engages in. But she has stuck with it. "I never thought once about not making the business work," she said. And her lifestyle complements her business.
"I live a very simple life. I had no family, and no big expenses when I opened the store, and that hasn't changed much," she said. But the market has changed, and Foster has adapted with it. "Over the years we found a lot of people suffer from gluten intolerance. So we've begun stocking gluten-free foods," she said.
Celia Sprue, also known as gluten intolerance, is an allergic reaction to pasta, wheat, rye and oats, among other foods.
"Ten years ago is was horrific for people who loved pasta but couldn't eat it," Foster said.
She has also dramatically increased her stock of dietary supplements, as people recognize the importance of supplementing their diets. "Using the right herbs can strengthen your physical and mental condition, as well as your immune system," Foster said.
Foster looks forward to the outdoor picnic tables and landscaping that building owner Pamela Gentile plans this spring. "Pamela is doing an extraordinary job here in landscaping," she said.
With more shelf space, Foster plans to expand her stock, with more natural herbs and spices, more natural fruit juices, cereals, essential oils and natural cosmetics.
Her customer base is growing as well, in part, she said, "because we cater to our customers."
"They come in, ask for a specific item, and we accommodate them. A lot of stores don't do special orders, but that's what our customers like about Hampton Natural Foods," Foster said.
The store is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays noon to 4 p.m.
"This move is a bit overwhelming, but we're all excited about the new possibilities here," Foster said.