The Real Thing: Fairweather Natural Foods
Photography: Laura Lamando
During this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I popped into Fairweather Natural Foods to pick up a jar of vitamin supplements. Strolling through the door in front of me was a guy who looked like he’d just stepped off the cover of a Ramones record. He wore skinny black jeans that appeared to be painted on, a black leather motorcycle jacket, and black and pink checkered Converse high-tops. There went stereotype #1: Not all natural food store customers wear Birkenstocks and hemp.
It turns out that the would-be Ramone was a film editor from New York City and just one of a subterranean group of Sundance-goers who do most of their shopping at Fairweather Foods when they’re here in town. Indeed, Fairweather customers, in general, form sort of an underground, word-of-mouth syndicate. “I’ve never had the money to advertise,” says Fairweather Natural Foods owner Jen Rattray. She depends on friends telling friends about Fairweather and the news has spread all the way to New York City.
With previous experience in the natural foods business in Santa Cruz, California and Boulder, Colorado, Jen moved to Park City in 1992, where in addition to working part-time at Fairweather, she somewhat sheepishly admits to waiting tables at a local steakhouse. It wasn’t long, though, before she bought out the previous owner of Fairweather Foods and hasn’t slung a steak since.
I was surprised at the sheer number of products in the Fairweather Foods store. It’s a small space, but crammed with everything from fresh organic produce and refrigerated vegetarian and vegan foods, to homeopathic remedies, supplements, books, and even Earth-friendly cleaning supplies. Next to the homemade vegan “chicken” salad, you’ll find natural sodas, organic ketchup, and Kettle Chips. There’s something for everyone.
When I ask Jen if the emergence of Wild Oats/Whole Foods and new organic produce sections in local grocery stores has affected her business, she says, “I’d be lying if I said I don’t get nervous, but I think there’s room for everybody.” She truly appreciates her loyal customers, who she says, “know the importance of shopping locally and make a concerted effort to shop here.” (In a nod to her local customers, Jen sells canvas shopping bags with “Locals Have More Fun” printed on them.)
On the other hand, Jen worries a bit that her store might seem intimidating compared to shopping in larger grocery chains. “I don’t want people to feel like they’re under scrutiny in my store, even though it’s small,” she says. “I hope people will feel welcome and not be afraid to ask questions.” (Since Jen has a background in natural healing and is pursuing a certified nutritionist degree, she’s a good person to ask about health and nutrition questions.)
Jen wears many hats at Fairweather. Our conversation is punctuated by the realities of being a business owner: She has a 2 p.m. deadline for ordering tomorrow’s produce and needs to do a quick inventory. Two women are ready to pay for their lunch, and she gets up to run the register. And here’s something you won’t find at the chain stores: There’s an “honor” system in place at Fairweather Foods: Lunch customers order, eat, and then just tell Jen what they had when it’s time to pay. There are no café tabs. That would be a waste of paper and, as Jen says, “We recycle everything.”
Returning from the register, Jen brings me a vegan Miracle Muffin to sample. When she mentions bran, I fear it’s going to taste like recycled Earth Shoes. But in fact, it is a miracle; without a doubt the best muffin I’ve ever gotten my lips around. It’s made with apple, coconut, carrot, bran, walnuts and sunflower seeds, and sweetened with agave nectar. Given the small size of the Fairweather kitchen, Jen can only bake a dozen or so muffins each day. So you can imagine the kerfuffle that ensued the day a customer tried to buy all 12 muffins! “Dude, you can’t buy all of them!” counseled the next guy in line, who’d come in to purchase his daily muffin. The incident has come to be known as the “Famous Muffin Scuffle.”
Aided in the store and kitchen by the very versatile Angela and Inge, Jen, and everyone at Fairweather, takes on whatever task is at hand, from running the cash register to composing fresh salads and making soup. By the way, the organic salads at Fairweather are inexpensive and awesome. Ditto the soups served in ceramic dine-in bowls — they are vegan, wholesome, and delicious. Items like these have made Fairweather a favorite local lunch spot.
When asked what’s new on the horizon for health food nuts, Jen’s smile brightens, and she speaks enthusiastically about chia seed, an almost magical source of omega-3, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber. Indeed, her energy and enthusiasm are so contagious that within minutes, she’s got me excited about chia seed, coming soon to a natural food store near you.
Fairweather Natural Foods
1270 Ironhorse Dr.
Phone 435.649.4561 Open 7 days
Ted Scheffler is a food, wine, and travel writer. He has been known to eat healthy, natural foods on occasion, but has yet to ingest chia seeds.