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Episode 97: Ozark Natural Foods – The Coop – Has A New Home In The Center of Fayetteville

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IANWA 97: Ozark Natural Foods - The Coop - Has A New Home In The Center of Fayetteville

Randy Wilburn [2:31] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn, and I'm excited today because I'm sitting here with an individual that's not only a guest on the podcast but a previous guest on the podcast. He's also a friend, and it's a really interesting story that I will share in today's episode as we discuss. I'm here with Mike Anzalone, and Mike is the General Manager of the Coop Ozark Natural Foods. For those familiar with the store down on Evelyn Hills Plaza, they are now up in the center of town at the corner of Lafayette in North College. They have got a brand-new building here. They have just transformed this business corridor with this new location, and without further ado, I want to welcome Mike to the podcast for a second time.

Mike Anzalone [3:45] Yes, for a second time. That's exciting, and thanks for having me.

Randy Wilburn [3:51] It’s certainly my pleasure, and I mean that because those of you who are listening don't realize this, this is how it went down. I reached out initially to Mike about a year and a half ago, but at the time of recording this, we were up to 94 Episodes of The I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast. I said to him I wanted to feature ONF or Ozark Natural Foods, Coop. I wanted to feature them on the podcast because they represent what Northwest Arkansas is all about. They support local businesses. They support local farmers, and they do so many amazing things in this community, and Mike was kind enough to come on the podcast, which led to many other things. I'm going to be an unapologetic fanboy right now for the Coop. What happened, I met with Mike, and he came on the podcast, Episode 15; we will put a link to it in the Show Notes. We had a great episode. We talked a lot. That was one of the most listened to episodes of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast, and I recommend that you go back and check it out. That day, we did the interview, because he knew I was a member of the Coop, he said you should apply, we are looking for board members. I didn't think much of it at the time. I got back to my office, and I said okay. I got the application and I filled it out. The application was due the next day, so I stopped everything I was doing. I filled it out, and lo and behold, several months later, after I filled out this application, which was maybe April of 2019, I got enough votes to be put on the Board. And now I'm into my second year on the Board at Ozark Natural Foods. I think it's important to say that relationships do matter. And one of the things that I have learned, and I learned this a long time ago, and you have heard me talk about it before, connections are everything. When I connected with Mike, we started to build a relationship, but I don’t know; there was just something about him. I said, I will do this, you never know where things are going to lead you, and I always remark to myself, and I've told my wife this I said if I had never reached out to Mike to say would you come on the podcast in the first place, I might never be where I am today doing what I'm doing. In the vein of what I'm doing for the Coop as a board member and as doing these podcasts. I’m always thankful for it, and because we are in the holiday season, I’m incredibly thankful because you meet so many great people. Mike is one of those great people that I have been blessed and fortunate enough to meet while doing this podcast, and now we are friends. There's more to it than just that. And I think that's one thing about podcasting that connects people in special ways, so Mike, it's good to have you back on the podcast. And today, we have you on because we wanted to talk about the latest and greatest iteration of the Coop because you guys are now in a new location, new building; this was all under your stewardship. You have a huge team behind you, but under your stewardship, we saw the Coop go from Evelyn hills to where you are now at the corner of Lafayette and North college. I would love for you to share and tell people a little bit, especially for the uninitiated, a bit about the Coop and yourself. We already did your superhero origin story, so we will refer to that before episode 15 but just tell them a little bit about the Coop and what's happening right now.

Mike Anzalone [7:58] I would love to talk about the new location and how we can offer the community now in a much better way than we couldn't in the past. But since you touched on the Board of Directors. I would love to veer off and talk about being a board member and board service a little bit. It's one of the reasons that this business model is so unique. It's not like a traditional board with the corporation, the cooperative; everyone is equal. Everyone has one share; nobody has more share. Nobody has more skin in the game. With a large corporation, the Board of Directors is made up of people who have invested the most in the company or hired board, so it's very different. Our board is just ‘do-gooders,’ only people who want to help the Coop, who want to be a part of it and want to be a part of the visioning process, and who don't get anything out of it than any other member can get out of it. You're still just a member at the Coop, but you get to dive in and be a part of futuring and directing this Coop to, what are we going to do a year from now, what are we going to do five years, where are we going to be ten years from now. It's so important to have a date with a dynamic group of people who take charge of the future of this Coop, and so I want to thank you for following up on that and becoming a Board member. I think you're a fantastic Board member. What do you feel is your experience being a Board member at the Coop?

Randy Wilburn [9:53] I like how you turn the tables on me. You are interviewing the interviewer, so that's good. It's funny because I get a chance to reflect all the time about being a part of something bigger than me, and I think this is a very special and unique organization. It’s got a lot of history. What people don't understand and I go around the country. I talk about, well, I haven't been going around the country that much lately because of the pandemic, but that's another story. Still, when I did, I would tell people about the Coop and talk about it with a lot of pride about this entity and this organization that's been around for almost 50 years. This has impacted our community and has come from very humble roots to where it is in its current iteration and state today. I'm proud to be a part of it for a couple of reasons. One, it made me aware when you hear people say farm to table. Coop brings a whole new meaning of farm to table because literally, we have neighbors here in Northwest Arkansas that are farmers. And a lot of them have a platform that is the Coop, put their wares out there, put the stuff they're growing, the stuff that they're breeding, things that they're putting out in the marketplace. We have a platform for them through the Coop to be able to do that. I think that's very special, and I am honored to be on the Board. I’m honored to extend the brand any way I can by doing this podcast and telling anyone who will listen that they need to become a member of the Coop and be a part of what we are doing in this community. But I just think as a board member, I have a lot of pride in being part of this Board, and it gave me an opportunity. I have been part of other boards, which has been beneficial for me, but it has taught me a lot. I have taken some additional classes, and I've learned some new things. The Coop is not a small entity when you compare it to other Coops, so I think there are many opportunities and a tremendous upside for growth. I'm just thankful to be a part of it, and I would encourage anyone that has ever thought about board membership to think about it because the real benefit is having a diversity of thought and ideas. Be a part of what we are trying to do, as you said, and I love the word futuring. What does the future look like, and that's what the board's charges? I don't get into the nitty and the gritty of what you guys do on a day to day basis, nor do you. You focus on the big picture. As the general manager, you have to be at that 25,000, 50,000 foot-view of where we are going, and we work together, and that's a beautiful thing. We are all trying to work hard at figuring out what this Coop looks like in the next five to 10 years and how it impacts our community.

Mike Anzalone [12:57] That's the interesting part about it, it belongs to us. It's not my Coop, and I have my time right now where I'm leading the Coop, but there is an umbrella above me, and that's the board, and the board represents the ownership. That is where we get our power. The ownership is in control. Not the general manager, not even the staff. The people who own this Coop, the members of this Coop, belong to all of them equally. That's an interesting dynamic when you have that many people come together and be a part of something, and also have the ability to control its destiny. And that's an interesting dynamic, and it makes this job a lot of fun, and it's always changing and to be in touch with the needs of a large sector of our community because we have like 20,000 owners. I keep saying owners; we're officially saying, members. I've been saying owners for so long.

Randy Wilburn [14:13] It's all good, but you know who you are, guys.

Mike Anzalone [14:20] But it's such a unique business model, and that's why I think we are so connected. I appreciated what you said; we have neighbors here who are farmers because that's what they are; they are our neighbors. All these people producing food, they're our neighbors, and this is their Coop also. And so, we're not just buying food from people and turning around and selling it to other people. These are members engaging with other members, and that's what this is; it’s a shared economy. And part of that sharing is knowing and understanding the people who are producing your food and how they're producing your food and having a direct relationship with the people who create your food, and we have a bunch here.

Randy Wilburn [15:07] A lot of what is happening here has been happening for years. Every time something new happens within the Coop, it creates a new opportunity. For instance, moving to this new location has created a new opportunity and created a new awareness. Even during the pandemic where many retail organizations have been struggling, you guys have done pretty well where things are, and you're growing some, and college students have discovered the Coop.

Mike Anzalone [15:48] That is the thing that I am most excited about as I’ve always wanted a large swath of young people to hang out at the Coop, and it's finally happening. Our patio and our indoor seating area were packed every day. They bring their laptops, and they just hang out and work all day. People are doing their jobs out there, but there's also a lot of students who are doing schoolwork there, and everybody's just hanging out on the swings.

Randy Wilburn [16:21] I've ridden by several times and see people out just really enjoying themselves. I've taken a couple of business meetings out there. I've done a podcast interview in the inside section of the coffee shop; a big shout out to Onyx Coffee for being a part of this and for many people who are aware, Onyx Coffee is here. Everybody has done a great job of making it open and available to everybody, and that's the thing I feel. Every time I walk in here, it's really warm and inviting, and I tell people all the time, let's go meet up at the coffee shop at ONF, and they're like ONF, and I'm like they moved from Beverly Hills, and they're at the new location. I'm going to say that several times but just as a reminder, because honestly, for a lot of you, the hardcore people always knew where the Coop was, and everybody else was like, where is this place. It’s like it was behind God's back there in the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center behind Tacos for Life in the corner. It was a great building but nowhere near what you guys have been able to put together now. And so, I'd love for you to share a little bit about that transformation process and what it entailed, and how you guys were able to come to where we are here now at the corner of Lafayette.

Mike Anzalone [17:44] There is a lot packed into that question, so I will pick it apart. The new building is unique. It addresses college, so I don't think another building on college does this. There was a large parking lot that just stretched around the building when it was Marvin’s and whatever the other couple of grocery stores were here. And so, we just tore out all the parking that addressed college, and we turned it into a large patio, so it became more visible. I think the visibility has a lot to do with the success we are having because everybody who drives by just notices these porch swings and these colorful chairs and the fact that it's packed every day. It draws a lot of attention to the store, usually a grocery store; you don't pay any attention to it whatsoever when you're driving by. It’s just people going to buy their groceries. And I always thought that that was something that we were lacking because we are owned by the community. I always wanted it to feel like a community, and the only way you can have that is if people choose to come and hang out and eat food together. And so, one of the main objectives I had in moving to this new location was to find an opportunity to find a way to get people together over good food. We took a big chunk of the space that normally would just be grocery space, and we turned it into a lot of prepared foods. Now we have a fantastic sushi program. We finally have gotten our Hot Bar back open again. We found a way to do this safely; a lot of Plexiglas involved, but that's open again. We have the Taproom, so we're serving beer and wine, and then, of course, we have the Onyx Coffee that we're featuring in our coffee shop. There's just a lot of opportunity for people to come, whatever their needs are, and just hang out and engage with their friends or neighbors or whoever. And so, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to leave Evelyn Hills and come to this location because I knew stepping into Downtown---. Downtown is very different from Midtown. Downtown is a place where people walk around and hang out. And so, we have to be at a place that we could encourage and be a part of that. It's worked out way better than I ever imagined, especially with the college students. I honestly thought it would take me about a year to reach out and get on their radar, but they immediately took to it. We were selling memberships. The last I heard was about 400% over last year, and so many of those are students, and it's fantastic to have students become members of the Coop.

Randy Wilburn [20:54] I would love to just explain to the audience those listening and maybe those that are new to the area to understand what membership entails. You don't have to have a membership to come here and shop, and actually, a lot of people shop here without a membership, but that's true membership does have its privileges.

Mike Anzalone [21:13] It does.

Randy Wilburn [21:14] I would love for you to speak to that a little bit so that people have a little clarity and understanding of the membership piece.

Mike Anzalone [21:21] A membership is proportionate ownership of this business. Whatever we have 20,000 owners now, they each own 120 thousandths of it, so there's some fundamental benefits to it. There are discounts in the store that you get that are not available to non-owners, non-members. I'm going to remember you have to say members sooner or later, and that's why we made the switch because the idea of ownership is a heavy conversation to have with someone when they just step into a grocery store. Would you like to own a portion of our business whereas membership, you have memberships to many things, and so it's a little more digestible? And I think it's relatively interchangeable, but it's less intimidating. So, part of that membership is also like you have the opportunity to run for the board of directors if you want. And of course, if you don't want to run for the board of directors, you can also vote for the board of directors. That’s what makes this a democratic organization because our board of directors is not assigned; the Members choose them. At the end of the year, when we make a profit when the board decides, we give a portion of that profit back to the owner through patronage checks that are like dividend checks. And ultimately, it just means that you're a part of this differently than just being a shopper. Of course, at the front door of this great big sign, when you walk in, it says ‘Everyone Welcome’ and everyone is welcome whether you're a member, whether you're not a member. Everyone is welcome to shop at the Coop.

Randy Wilburn [23:59] And I think people do feel welcome here when they come, and I think you guys have done a great job about just creating awareness around that, the whole idea behind membership but then at the same time making anyone that walks in the door feel special. I think that's important. There's so much to offer, and everything has expanded since moving from the Evelyn Hills location. The bulk section is vast now—the Homestead section where you can get all the plants. You can get a little bit of everything and whether you have a farm or just have a nice backyard and want to take really good care of it. They have a lot of things here at the Coop that can help you out. They have got chickens; you name it, they have got it. There's just a little bit of everything here.

Mike Anzalone [24:55] It’s a unique shopping experience. You can just have these very different experiences. You can come and do a traditional fill your cart. You can come on Saturday and grab a cart and do your grocery shopping and get some supplements and some stuff out of bulk and whatever and wheel out your cart and go away or, you can hang out over this amazing prepared food side where you can spend a whole day there. Just come and have breakfast, do some work, meet some people, have some coffee, and later have lunch, then have a beer. You can do all that or go to the Homestead and pick up things for your pets or animals. There are so many pots and plants and decorative items, and they are all in their little sections where you can have this large whole shopping experience and do it from one side to the other man, or you can just pick and choose; it meets a lot of needs.

Randy Wilburn [25:54] You're absolutely right about that because I don't know that there is another store in this area where you could get an onyx latte or buy a baby chicken. And then, if you want to throw in a little sushi in between, you have it all covered.

Randy Wilburn [26:16] I would love for you just to talk a little bit about your team and the fact that you have some conscientious workers here. You have some folks representing the Coop well, and I would love for you just to highlight. You don't have to talk about individuals necessarily, but just what can people expect when they come through these doors and interact with your team members here at the Coop?

Mike Anzalone [26:43] So we have a core of people who've been with us for a long time. They are passionate about what they're doing, whether they have been in the supplements department for ten years or the Fresh department for years and years. There's something unique about the Coop that attracts people who just don't want to go away; they just want to make this their career. None of us are getting rich over here, but we are doing it because we want to be a part of a shared economy. We want to be a part of the health of the community. We want to interact with local farmers and local vendors and help their businesses prosper. So, you get these unique individuals who don't say I want to work at a grocery store; they say, I want to work at the Coop. And they stick around for a long time, and it's been fascinating to watch. We had four very lean years after competition came into town, and we ended up with a much smaller staff than we were accustomed to. And over the last several months, we have exploded. We have gone from about 70-75 people at the previous location to well over 100. I think we were getting close to 110 at some point, so all this has just infused this amazing new young energy of people who wanted to work at the Coop, and it was overwhelming. It was like a wave of new people with all unique experiences and just excited about working at this new great location and bringing their skills, enthusiasm, and ideas about cooperation. And so, it's been really fun to watch that explode, and now it’s settling into a rhythm. And at the end of the day, it's just a great shopping experience. There are so many enthusiastic people who are now working here, and they're making it a great place. I'm really proud of all of them, and I just love coming to work every day to be a part of that energy.

Randy Wilburn [29:00] Since I've become part of this Board, I've learned a lot more about Coops; I knew some things. Coops have a long and storied history in this country. Of course, the original Coops were created over in England, but here in the United States, you had many African Americans who had created Coops because it was the only place they could shop. There is just a lot of history concerning Coops, and I think that you guys are trying to blend the old with the new in terms of that mindset of how you get everybody to be a part of this community. So, what is next for the Coop? I mean, you're in this brand-new building that we have discussed. Again, I just want to encourage you if you have not been to a Coop, you need to come down and visit and just take a look around. You would be amazed at everything that is available right under one roof, and we weren't joking—everything from baby chickens to the best latte in the world. But the bottom line is that you need to take a look at what's happening here and how this area is being transformed because of this one organization, the Coop entity. So, I would encourage you guys to come and see what Mike and the rest of his team are doing here. As I like to say, this is the historic district where the store is located, and we're right off at Dixon, very close proximity to the city center area, so you know we're about less than a half a mile from the Greenway trail. You can be riding your bike down downtown and just take a quick detour to come up Lafayette, and you're right here at the store. There are a lot of ways that you can get here, and there's easy access both on foot, on motorized scooters, on bikes, you name it, you can get here easily. What do you see as the future of the Coop here, especially as we change our buying habits and the way that we buy things? Many people are going online to do stuff, and this pandemic has created a new market for the way people shop. I know my wife has spent more time ordering online and either having groceries delivered or pick them up without physically going into the store. I don't know about you. I like going into the store to pick up things. I do appreciate the expediency sometimes, but I just like coming in here. And the thing that I like again is when I come in here it's the same smiling faces that I see all the time. People that are really happy doing what they do, and I could never replicate that through an online experience, but I'd love for you just to talk a little bit about what your plans are for the future, the way people's retail shopping habits are evolving.

Mike Anzalone [32:13] I do see this being a trend and I think it's not going away, and I believe that ordering online and either doing curbside pickup or delivery will grow in our business. But I don't ever want that to be the focus of our business; I want that to stay on the periphery. I want it to be the fringe part of our business. I like the idea of people interacting with good food. You watch what happens in these much larger, especially big box stores where they remove all the personal interactions. You just go into these big stores, you shop alone, you can't find anyone to help you. And then you get up to the front, and there's a machine that you run yourself and you pay and there's an electronic voice that says, thank you for shopping your change is in the---whatever. I don't ever want to do that. The whole magical thing about this new building is that there are so many interactions with employees and neighbors. This is what community feels like. Community can happen anywhere; it can even happen in a grocery store, and that's what I want to expand on. I want to expand on the community, not on technology. Technology, I would like to use to help build the community. That's it. I don't want to tear down the community and shield it behind screens. I want the future of food in Northwest Arkansas to be over human interactions.

Randy Wilburn [34:00] And certainly again, I think it is pure genius with what you guys have created. I look at that outside area and the inside space as more of a gathering place. And I certainly feel like we can appreciate it more if there wasn't a pandemic going on, but I can see what the potential will be when this pandemic is over, which it will. It will sunset at some point in time, God’s willing. But when it is over, I think we will be able to even more appreciate what you guys have put together here, because it is very inviting. There are very few places that you go where you feel like you want to sit down and stay awhile. And that's the thing I think why the college students come up here to study and to interact with their friends because not only is it a safe environment but it's just a place that feels very inviting. It's like almost somebody's living room that you get to hang out in, and I think you guys have done an excellent job with that.

Mike Anzalone [35:03] And that's not the typical grocery experience, right. The grocery experience is that you have a cart, and you walk around in isles where you don't bump into people, and you pick out your cans and leave. This is designed to be something very different. You can choose to have that experience, but you have to go out of your way to get it.

Randy Wilburn [35:36] As I was sitting here thinking, you also have a section of your store which we didn't get to talk about, but I think it bears mentioning because personally, it's one of the most expansive in our area, but it's a health and wellness section. Everybody in there knows what they're talking about. I hate going into stores, and I go and ask for some help and people can barely give me an answer because they don't know. And that's the one thing I will say unequivocally, whether I was a board member or not, my experience has always been when I've talked to people about anything that is sold here, there is a level of knowledge and understanding of the product that is not replicated easily in different places. I would love to speak a little bit to the folks you have in the health and wellness section. You got everything from CBD to just your usual vitamins and minerals and all the great stuff. I've been educated on so many things that I have purchased here, and you have a little bit of everything for everyone that might have something that they're dealing with.

Mike Anzalone [36:44] Again, how I mentioned people are attracted to working at the Coop, and the women's department is the same way as when people get into the wellness department, they stick around for a long time. And these are people who are very interested in the way the human body works, the way it reacts to supplements, and the idea that there's an alternative to allopathic medicine that by changing your diet, by changing your lifestyle, and by supplementing your diet with wellness products you can live a long, happy life without necessarily needing medication and operations. And so, these people tend to be passionate, and they study a lot. We give them opportunities to explore. We also do a lot of training inside. And so, as we watched over the last couple of years, where most of the industry has gone online, we haven't seen a significant break away from our wellness department in our supplements because we have people here who really understand those products, understand their purposes and how to use them properly. They can trust us because we sell the highest quality of everything anyway. We have people who understand those things, so when they ask questions and recognize that they get knowledgeable answers, they trust the integrity of that conversation. They trust the integrity of the product. And so, they don't just buy it online. They don't just shop around for the cheapest thing on Amazon; they come here to make sure that they're investing in their health.

Randy Wilburn [38:36] You bring up a good point, and again I'm going to bring this up, but I remember looking at another store that had an item that you guys didn't carry, and then I came here and enquired if I could get X, and they were like sure, and within like a week, X was here; it was on the shelf. I bought a couple of them, and it was just an allergy droplet for my kids, but just being able to get that. Again, they were knowledgeable of it. They just said we don't carry it, but we will get it for you right away. So that's the other thing too. You might often think, well, I don't see it on the shelf, so maybe it doesn't exist as far as they're concerned. Ask. If you're ever in this store, and I assume this for many different things, but if you're ever in this store and don't see something you would expect to see in a type of store the Coop is, just ask. Chances are if it's not out of stock, but it might be worth carrying, they will get it for you pretty quickly. I like that. I thought that was cool.

Mike Anzalone [39:39] You like your Coop.

Randy Wilburn [39:40] Yes, I do like my Coop. As I said, I'm an unapologetic fanboy for the Coop, and again, I think, from the people to the items that are sold here. Also, I understand the company’s 360 nature and what it represents to the community. And I think, as more people become aware of it. They know the dynamics of it between the whole farm to table movement and just being able to get quality things that don't require logistics to bring them over water or great distances and land or on a train that you can get a lot of that right here in your backyard.

Mike Anzalone [40:27] I think that one of the great things about moving to this new location is that suddenly we have people's attention. If you haven't seen the store, people are talking about it. And so, many people are coming to figure out what this thing is, find out what a Coop is and how it works and why it's good for the community. I think that's one of the things I'm excited about: this new location, all this new attention, and the focus on the word Coop. What does that mean to be a Coop? What is a food Coop, and how does that work, and how can I be a part of it has been exciting.

Randy Wilburn [41:12] And there is a lot of pride. I've traveled around the country a little bit and participated in an event on behalf of the Coop, and I went to Portland, Oregon. There were several Coops represented there, and they were talking about the pride and their organizations and how they develop members and people to be a part of what they're doing. And people are a part of it because they believe in the mission and the mandate and what these organizations are doing. There's just something special about it that you just don't get at a Kroger or an Albertsons or a Safeway. I can give you a little key dongle to put on your key to keep track of all your spending, but that benefits the company. Not necessarily you, I mean, they throw you a bone now and then with a discount here or there for frequent shopping, but there's something different about Coop.

Mike Anzalone [42:12] Yes, it's very different. I mean, being a member here is not about data tracking. It's about truly being a part of an organization that feeds your family.

Randy Wilburn [42:23] I think that's one of the most important things now. As we wind up, because I know that you guys have done several initiatives, people might come here and be asked to round up some money. I would love to speak to how those extra funds go to support the local organizations.

Mike Anzalone [42:44] What an amazing program. It is called farmhand, and when you make any purchases at the Coop, someone's going to ask you, would you like to wrap up your change? And basically, we just collect that change on behalf of a local farmer. And what we do is we have them lined up. We have our next several projects, and it can be anywhere from 1000 to, I think even one project was closer to $10,000. And we just keep hammering away until we get to that figure that they need. And then we buy them a piece of equipment to grow their business, which’s the only criteria. If you're a local producer or a local farmer and struggling to grow your business, you figure out what it is that would help you grow your business, and we will buy that piece of equipment. And I mean we, the community of the Coop, right. I do it myself. I round up almost all my transactions, and I know where it's going and who's getting it. There's a picture on the register screen of the farmer who needs whatever this is. And we just don't stop, we just keep going until we reach that number. We cut them a check, get them that piece, and then we as a community benefit because now we have a more successful farmer. We have a producer who can produce more of a great product. We as a Coop can benefit because now, we have access to more of their products. The community has access to more of their products. The farmer is prosperous. It is part of the shared economy that I was talking about earlier because we can all help each other grow and be a part of each other's lives in a beneficial way.

Randy Wilburn [44:30] I love that. I think that the farming program is cool, and I love coming in and looking on the big screen and seeing all the different farms and suppliers represented here, so you just don't realize it. We talked about the appreciation dinner that we had last year, which was all pre-pandemic. It was right around Christmas time, and I had a chance to meet with a number of the farmers from near and far. I’m just amazed that these people, whether they're growing animals or growing vegetables or anything like that, they just have a level of pride and love for what they do. I did not meet one boring person. I did not meet one person that wasn't like all in. The mindset perspective about what they were doing and just their belief that they knew they were making a difference, and I think it's something to be said. You can go to our farmer’s markets here locally, and you can get a whiff of what it's like, but it's just different, and that's the one thing that I tell people. And this is for those of you who are thinking about moving into Northwest Arkansas and wondering what makes this place different from any other place. I would just say that there is an entrepreneurial spirit here. Still, there’s a spirit of individuals and relationships that exist here that you don't find everywhere, and that's not to knock any other part of the country, but I do think people genuinely care about each other here. We may have our differences. We may have our partisan beliefs about certain things, but I think overall, we're all trying to go uphill and deal with the same issues. And I believe that we all try to look out for each other, and that would be something that I believe to be very true about Northwest Arkansas.

Mike Anzalone [46:20] Those farmers, god bless [inaudible 46:25]. It's not easy to grow food in Northwest Arkansas. It’s tough.

Randy Wilburn [46:28] The margins are razor-thin and for some. The love overweighs everything.

Mike Anzalone [46:39] Look at our soil. It’s this rocky, muddy soil. You have to care about it. You have to know how to put nutrients into it for it to grow, especially organic farming. Organic farming is challenging. You don't just douse it in chemicals and watch it grow. You have to put more into the soil than you take out of it, and it's a wonderful lesson. It takes a really special person to be attracted to that kind of farming. And it's tough to make a living. The more we can help those guys be prosperous, the more local great food we have available to us.

Randy Wilburn [47:19] It's definitely a worthwhile investment. Any final thoughts that you want to share with the listening audience before we call this an episode.

Mike Anzalone [47:31] No, come down and have a beer and sit on the patio.

Randy Wilburn [47:34] Will there be heat lamps out in the wintertime.

Mike Anzalone [47:38] Yes. There is an order. We should have those in the coming weeks. [cross-talking]

Randy Wilburn [47:41] [Cross-talking] Coming from the northeast, I don't necessarily need it because I think it still feels nice and crisp even on a day like today. It's not abundantly cold. I mean, you don't know what a cold is until you go 30 days of sub-zero weather.

Mike Anzalone [47:58] Oh, but we have indoors for that.

Randy Wilburn [47:59] Absolutely.

Mike Anzalone [48:01] We want to keep the good times rolling on the patio, so we've got some heat lamps coming.

Randy Wilburn [48:05] Good. That’s definitely going to make it worth checking out this wintertime, and maybe if you go up and check out the lights there in the center of town. I would encourage you to check out the lights and then stop by here, grab a pumpkin spice cider or a hot chocolate, and just sit out and have a nice conversation. And the cool thing is that the way they have this whole area patio set up, it's socially distant. People can sit out there, outside, you don't have to worry about the virus being a problem for you or anything like that. And so, I meet out there quite a bit, and it's definitely worth it. The only time that it's ever even remotely a challenge is one time in the driving rain, and that wasn't good for anybody, but we survived. I would encourage you guys to come and check it out, so, come down here. What's the actual address?

Mike Anzalone [49:07] 380 North College.

Randy Wilburn [49:09] That’s right at the corner of Lafayette and North College, directly diagonal from AutoZone. The Washington School is right behind that, so we're right in this little nexus of the universe. One block down going south on North College is Dixon. This is the heart of it. Lafayette runs right directly into the UVA campus, as does Dixon, and you couldn't be in anymore in the center of it all.

Mike Anzalone [49:40] Our Coop has always been a downtown Coop. We moved to Evelyn Hills [cross-talking]. I think it's six or 7,000. There were a couple of little tiny ones in the very beginning added to the list but---

Randy Wilburn [49:59] I don't mean to cut you off, but the history is amazing when you think about how this started. And I always tell people don't despise small beginnings because small things lead to big things. Those small initial things back in the early 70s have led to what we have now.

Mike Anzalone [50:15] Our first location was a tiny little storage room in the back of the Highroller Cyclery.

Randy Wilburn [50:23] That's cool. I've seen some pictures of what some of that looks like, so that was amazing.

Mike Anzalone [50:31] Fun times.

Randy Wilburn [50:31] I can imagine. It has had its ups and downs. It’s gone through a lot of different things, but I mean here, you guys are stronger than ever. And even amid the pandemic, you're still looking it dead in the eye and saying, what do you get next? That’s what you have to do.

Mike Anzalone [50:48] Well, I'm glad you see it that way. I don't know if I'm looking anything dead in the eye. I'm more really grateful that things have been working out as well as it has

Randy Wilburn [50:59] I hear you. I appreciate this. You're one of the few people we've had on more than once, and again we have something to celebrate and talk about. Because the I am Northwest podcast focuses on the intersection of business, culture entrepreneurship, and life in the Ozarks, you check off a number of those boxes, and so we appreciate you guys. Thank you so much for being such an integral part of the community and allowing us to sit down with you again to learn more about what's happening and what the future holds for the Coop. I want to encourage everybody to come down. If you join, let them know that you heard about the Coop through the Northwest Arkansas podcast, and I'm sure that these guys will give you a fist bump and a pound for coming down and becoming a part of history.

Mike Anzalone [51:53] Thank you so much for having me back. I enjoy our conversations, just our normal conversations but thanks for formalizing it on your show. That’s fantastic, and thank you very much for being a member of our board. It's such an important part of this business, and I think you're doing a fantastic job. You’re knocking it out of the park.

Randy Wilburn [52:14] Thank you so much. I appreciate that. Thank you. Well, folks, there you have it, Mike Anzalone, General Manager of the Coop right here at the corner of Lafayette North college. I encourage you to come down. You might even see me here, and if you do, please say hello. I would love to chat with you, but I appreciate it. This is another episode of The I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. Remember, we come out every week on Monday with a new episode, and we always have something brand new for you. And I can't believe we're almost up to Episode 100, which I'm excited about. We’ve been cooking with gas here, and we're excited to share all the great news and all the amazing things that are happening here in Northwest Arkansas, with you our listeners. And so, we do appreciate you guys. Remember, you can find this podcast wherever great podcasts can be found. Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, you name it, the podcast is there. So, we encourage you to check it out. [cross-talking]. We're out there, we're out there, and certainly, want to encourage you to rate and review us. And as I always say, five-star review, we won't turn any of those down. And remember, if you have an Alexa at home, just say, hey Alexa, play the latest episode of The I am Northwest Arkansas podcast, and Alexa will oblige. So, we're everywhere you want us to be and even more. So that's all we have for this week, but we will see you next week with a brand-new episode. I hope you guys have an amazing week, peace, 3-2-1. All right, perfect. All right, that was good. That was good. Thank you so much.

Mike Anzalone [53:50] Sorry for the interruption.

Randy Wilburn [53:52] Oh no, please don't worry about that. It's so easy to edit things it's not even a problem. We're good. That was an excellent episode. We got to touch on a lot of different things, health, and wellness.

Mike Anzalone [54:07] This is transcribing.

Mike Anzalone [54:09] The technology is.

About the Show: 

We sat down with General Manager Mike Anzalone to discuss what it was like to move a grocery store in the middle of a pandemic without missing a beat.

Ozark Natural Foods

380 N. College Ave

Fayetteville, AR 72701


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