Withey’s Health Foods, right here in Kalispell, was one of the first stores that started to sell Kettle Care Organics products. Focused on healthy and local products, Withey’s was the valley’s first health food store. When we learned of their 60th Anniversary Celebration, we thought it would be fun to chat with owner, Joe Withey. And fun it was, with a full dose of insight and much, much more!! What began as a pleasant interview became a powerful and inspiring story.
A bit of History
We asked Joe about the store’s history and learned right away that his dad was an avid hunter from North Dakota. On one of his trips he encountered the Bob Marshal Wilderness and fell in love with it. In 1956 he moved the family to Kalispell, Montana. In 1958 he and his wife Ronnie bought the King’s Market and Motel. At the tome King’s Market and Motel had a grocery store, a 7 unit motel and a small gas station.
Around 1960 Ronnie, Joe’s mom developed arthritis and learned that Alfalfa tea should be a good cure. She drank 6 cups a day, to the point where she could not stand the taste anymore. The experience led her to look deeper into nutrition and natural approaches to healing. As Ronnie gathered more and more knowledge she shared as much as she could. Through this, their store became the hub of knowledge exchange, ideas and community. Eventually it even led to a name change in the business from Withey’s Market and Motel to Withey’s Health Foods.
Joe recalls that he started to work at the business at age 6, filling gasoline for cars (oh, so not possible nowadays) His dad earned 5 cents per gallon and Joe got 2 cents of that for filling. You were able to get 2.7 gallons of gas for $1 at that time he remembered. This profit sharing surely must have encouraged Joe to like business. But why a health food store? Joe told us that at age 17 he underwent oral surgery and, for some time, resorted to liquid foods such as nutritional drinks made with raw egg, fresh fruits and vegetables. This was a big change from the meat and potatoes diet his family of avid hunters lived on. When he started drinking these nutritional shakes he noticed that he started to feel better and had more energy in his body in a wholesome way. That’s when he realized how essentially nutrition affects ones body and wellbeing. He was hooked. In college, Joe pursued a B.A. in Nutrition, attended a few business classes and returned home after a few years to help run the family business. As Joe’s responsibilities in the store increased, his lucky parents were able to start living their dream and taking off on long fishing trips. It was around 1983 when Joe took over ownership of Withey’s Health Foods. Shortly after that he and his wife did a remodel on the building using no contractors at all, transforming it into the Withey’s you see today.
What do you attribute to the 60 year of success of Withey’s Health Foods?
We sure wanted to know the answer to that….