Mark and Soodi Kick opened their Brookhaven health food store in 1980 at the corner of Ashford Dunwoody and Peachtree roads.
The vegetarian couple had moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles and found the local health food market lacking.
Soodi said she had to drive 10 to 12 miles just “to buy food for my family.”
“Introducing what health food can do for you was a major part of our job back then,” Mark said.
More than 30 years later, their Nuts ‘N Berries store thrives in a city where nearly every supermarket offers up food with labels promising “raw,” “natural” or “organic” foods.
In order to keep Nuts N’ Berries’ bottom line healthy, the company had to become something more than a health food store.
The couple met in architecture school at Ohio University. They moved to Atlanta because it was “a more family-oriented place than L.A.,” Mark said. They’ve been married 42 years.
In 1992, the Kicks moved the Nuts ‘N Berries store down Peachtree to its intersection with Kendrick Road.
The main section of the store sells a selection of produce and a bounty of nutritional supplements. It smells of crushed roasted peanuts, a byproduct of a machine that makes fresh peanut butter.
Store manager Betsy Mylander said customers come from Oglethorpe University, DeKalb Peachtree Airport, an Audi dealership and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the health food market evolved, the Kicks tweaked their business model. Today Nuts N’ Berries functions as a personal wellness center. Soodi is a certified nutritionist.
The company leases space to the Brookhaven Bistro, a restaurant connected to the main store that offers healthy cuisine.
Brookhaven Bistro chef Chip Desormeaux said that, since he took over the restaurant in 2007, he’s worked to establish a menu for vegetarians and their non-vegetarian friends.
“The thing that seems to help here is to hit a middle line with healthy food,” Desormeaux said.
It’s also a matter of economics, Mark said. Catering only to one crowd would make the food more expensive.
On the second floor is a spa, Alef Skin Care and a company called Brainscapes which claims its brainwave therapy can alleviate the symptoms of a variety of mental and physical afflictions.
Mark said he played to his company’s strengths to stay competitive with big-box grocery stores.
He dropped dairy products and oriented the business around employee knowledge, product variety and customer service.
He said the company offers customers a personal touch they might not be able to find elsewhere.
“If a customer comes in, they will get a much higher ratio of employee attention to their concerns,” Mark said.
Mark and Soodi intended to retire from the business a decade ago. In 2002, they sold it to a businessman from Japan.
Eventually, the new owner moved back to Japan and attempted to operate the company from afar. Sales began to decline.
The couple bought the business back a year ago.
Mark said he’s worked to rebuild the store’s brand and reestablish relationships with customers.
He said he’s making progress.
“We’re seeing our customer count go up,” Mark said.
The personal side of being healthy is what keeps the Kicks motivated.
Mark said he enjoys the feedback from customers who have shopped at the store for years.
“We’re really looking out for the prosperity of Brookhaven,” Mark said.