Percell on Opening Simply Wholesome:
I started the business in 1981 by accident. I have been a long distance runner for years, and I used to work out at the Jack LaLanne Spa. One evening I had come in and the owner, who ran the center, asked if I would be interested in buying it from him. I had always wanted to do my own thing, and at the time, I was selling athletic equipment to schools and universities. I saw the potential of the business, so I said “yes” and bought it. About a week later, he wanted to buy it back and doubled the money, but I declined. So I went on and hired a young lady, who was a nutritionist. She worked at the store during the day and I worked in the evenings.
I started carrying small pocket-sized books on nutrition. These books were very informative, and I would discuss different ailments such as: high cholesterol, diabetes, etc … I began reading and started making a few connections, in regards to health. The business really started picking up, and I started nutrition counseling and outgrew the facility. Around ‘84 or ‘85 Jack LaLanne started to lose business because they weren’t a co-ed facility, and that is what people started to seek — the social aspect of exercising. I saw the transition taking place, and because I was limited and wanted to sell food as well, I needed to find a new location.
I was fortunate to find my location across the street, one day when I was running. So, in 1984, Simply Wholesome by that name was born, and I started really small with about 500 square feet of store and the rest was restaurant. I sold soups and my mother made (and still makes) sandwiches and pastries. We also sold protein shakes since I didn’t have a kitchen at that time. I started growing with the momentum of people becoming more health oriented.
At first a lot of people thought I was crazy for making the transition to health because I was told “black people don’t eat healthy” and I was urged to change location. I remember prior to Simply Wholesome, when I moved into this community, I found myself driving to different parts of the city like South Bay or the Marina [Del Rey] or Hollywood to get health food.
The beginnings of Simply Wholesome:
There was a little resistance at first, mostly from older people, but the younger folks came along. Also, my base from Jack LaLanne’s followed me over along with folks that had known me for years.
I also noticed that since we unfortunately have the stereotype that black businesses don’t run like they should, (i.e. if a game is coming on we’ll close early or we run out of food etc.), in the early days people would ask if we had certain things on the menu. It’s as if they were always expecting me to be out of something, not out of being vindictive but due to what we’re conditioned to believe about ourselves.
As time progressed that flew out the window, and now that’s not even an issue, I’ve proven myself. Another thing I noticed was that as my business continued to grow, a diverse clientele began coming in, and it’s still like that until this day. This is when I also observed that once we had more diversity coming in, some of the older established and wealthy black individuals in the area started to come in as well. I viewed this transition as a blessing. Since we got validated by other nationalities, it was now okay for them to come in as well.
Simply Wholesome Today:
I used to have people come in and say “this is health stuff, I don’t need this!”
My response is, “you‘re buying two burgers for a dollar, what kind of quality do you think you’re getting? Where is your mentality?”
I view Simply Wholesome as a transitional place, I have something for everybody and everything we serve is clean. If someone comes in and is curious and wants to eat better, I have something to offer them. I’ve also had people come in and say “this isn’t all vegetarian,” and my response is, “I never said it was.”
My whole thing is to give people options, we all have choices. I would say I do see more people leaning towards vegetarian food, because folks are more health conscious. They are seeing and feeling their bodies. People want to live longer and I tell people that I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, but I can control the quality of life while I’m here.
Are you yourself vegetarian? Yes. I do eat fish, but I can’t remember the last time I had red meat.
Favorite vegan item on the menu? Vegan key lime pie.
I had a wonderful time talking to Percell and I appreciate him making room for me in his busy schedule. If you live in Los Angeles or planning a visit, be sure to check them out. I guarantee you won’t regret it!