In 1970, four friends began operating a 1,300-square-foot health food store in the Canoga Park area. They called the store “Follow Your Heart,” a name that summed up their business philosophy to always remain true to their ideals — even if doing so flew in the face of conventional retail wisdom.
Two of the original founders, Michael Besancon and Spencer Windbiel, went their separate ways in 1985 (Besancon is now the global head of Purchasing & Sourcing) but two others, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin, continue to run the company today.
Over 40 years, one major move, one violent earthquake, and a Whole Foods-dominated generation later, the store is still governed by the same principles, offering proof that following your heart can indeed lead to both personal and financial success.
The first ideals-based decision the four founders made was to eliminate meat, poultry, and fish from the store’s offerings, a move that was controversial at the time. “A lot of people warned us that this would cause the store to fail, but it turned out to be just the opposite. It actually created a niche that we hadn’t even perceived,” Goldberg claims. “It turns out there was a large amount of people who actually preferred to shop at a meatless store.”
Follow Your Heart remains meatless to this day, and Goldberg says this is one of the many ways the store distinguishes itself from other area natural food stores — including a Whole Foods that moved into the neighborhood in 1997.
Another store hallmark is the café. The menu alone — with entrée names that hark back to the ‘70s like The Love Plate and The Om Lette — is a testament to its enduring popularity. “Our restaurant has always been at the core of our business. It was one of the things that made us really unique,” Goldberg says. “We decided the smart thing to do would be to continue to strengthen our unique and strong suits and also to play up the advantage of being small, which really allowed us to deliver a level of personal service and customer contact that is much harder for larger companies.”
Visit Follow Your Heart at 21825 Sherman Way in Canoga Park. Call ahead at (818) 348-3240 or go to followyourheart.com.