Like a toddler’s patient parents mimicking airplane sounds and motions with broccoli florets speared on the end of a fork, they set out to get the entire city of Worcester to “open wide.”
Any parenting veteran knows the challenges when it comes to developing healthy eating habits in a youngster –– never mind an entire city. But 49 years ago, Albert and Magdalena Maykel, the owners of The Living Earth Natural Market & Café at 232 Chandler Street, set out on their demanding mission. They believed that people would eventually grow to both understand and appreciate the value of proper, quality nutrition.
Such an ambitious task would require an unwavering commitment and a staggering amount of time. And the Maykels also knew it would require a multi-pronged approach.
They wanted to educate people on the importance of growing and eating foods produced without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. They wanted to show why that was important for both people and the environment.
They wanted to guide people toward better, healthier dietary choices. And, in a pioneering step for Worcester, the Maykels wanted to open a store stocked with precisely these types of foods.
As a result, The Living Earth was born on April 15, 1971 at its original location, 327 Pleasant Street. Consistent with the store’s mission, Albert Maykel built the shop using locally-sourced building materials, including barn board milled in Hubbardston, Mass.
In its infancy, the store –– its very concept –– represented an anomaly in Worcester. The selection of natural and organic foods in the city was minimal.
Finding good quality foods to stock the shelves meant traveling out to both the eastern and western coasts. The Maykels also began partnering with many local farmers who would grow and produce organic foods.
In addition, they began working with similar stores around New England to leverage cooperative buying power. This meant meeting in the middle of the night, every week, at Logan Airport to break down containers of fresh organic produce and dairy products that had been flown in from California. And even more trips were made every week to both Boston and New York to buy directly from distributors.
The business found its footing, and was soon making strides. By the end of the 1970s, the Maykels had opened two more stores in the Springfield area, Living Earth Springfield and The Springfield Natural Provisions Co. And they had found someone who would be their longtime general manager, Frank Phelan.
In 1986, they purchased a new Worcester location, 232 Chandler Street. The expanded space allowed for an expanded vision of their mission. Specifically, they rented space on the building’s second floor to other health-related practitioners, giving more options to customers seeking to improve their overall health.
Four years later, the Maykels made a move that not only accentuated their mission for providing quality foods, but also reaffirmed their position as being well ahead of the cultural curve. In a time when the phrase “farm-to-table” was decades away from mainstream understanding, they purchased a 150-acre farm in Rutland, Mass., to bolster their store’s offerings. They raised lamb, beef, pork, produce and herbs on their farm, and sold it all exclusively at Living Earth.
And finally, they developed their own space onsite where customers could come in, sit down at a table, and “open wide” to savor the delicious results of their work. In 2006, the store’s original Garden Café restaurant evolved into the restaurant EVO. After 10 successful years, EVO morphed into Bootlegger’s Prohibition Pub and later the Gourmet Grab and Go.
After 49 years of commitment to their vision, Albert, Magdalena and Frank understandably have a feeling of satisfaction. In contrast to when their business began, restaurants boasting “locally-sourced, farm-to-table food” are commonplace. Today, major supermarkets feature entire organic sections of food. The message behind The Living Earth for 49 years has been heard. More and more people are eating more nutritious foods. Bravo! Job well done! Mission accomplished!
232 Chandler Street For Sale
With announcement of the Maykels’ retirement, the building that has been home to the Living Earth since 1986 went up for sale. The 12,257-square-foot Chandler Street mixed-use property is on the market for $1.5 million. Amenities include a retail grocery market, full-service kitchen with appliances and stable rental income of $5,300 per month from the five tenants on the building’s second floor.