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The Craig Sams Story
by Craig Sams


Posted in December 2005

 In October 1966 I arrived in England, with plans to open a macrobiotic restaurant similar to the Paradox, a restaurant in New York’s East Village that was the first macrobiotic restaurant in the US.

 I visited it the same day I visited the macrobiotic bookshop – the day it was investigated by the FBI and told not to sell any books until they had reviewed their content (they contained illegal statements such as that poor diet could cause cancer and healthy diet could help cure cancer).

 Eventually all the books were taken away and burned and Prof. Frederick Stare of Harvard University wrote and article in Reader’s Digest calling macrobiotics ‘the hippie diet that’s killing our kids.’ I was graduating from university in June, my mother lived in London, so I came here to start a restaurant.

I prepared macrobiotic food at home and then sold it through the snack bar at the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road, where the Pink Floyd, the Soft Machine and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown all played.

 I also imported the books and pamphlets published by The Ohsawa Foundation in Los Angeles and sold them through the Indica Bookshop (part owned by Paul McCartney and also by Barry Miles, who wrote the definitive McCartney biography a few years ago). The books sold well and I had an insert in them with my phone number so that gradually a small core developed.

 In 1966 the only people in London (apart from Mrs. Takagi) who had heard of macrobiotics were a lady called Diana who had studied in Boston and Yoko Ono, who had been macrobiotic in Japan. However, we formed a group who promoted the ideas at the UFO club and other gatherings.

 In February 1967 I opened a small restaurant in the basement of The Centre House at 10a Airlie Gardens and it was an overnight success. Our supplies came from Mikadoya, a Japanese foods distributor that operated from a house in Crystal Palace, from Katsouris, the Greek foods wholesaler and from Prewett’s who supplied wholewheat flour for our unleavened bread and erratic quality brown rice, which was ‘cargo rice’, i.e. rice that was bought from Thames Rice mills before it could be turned into white rice.

 The restaurant only lasted for 3 months; the Centre House was in a residential neighbourhood and the comings and goings aroused the neighbours and the owner of Centre House received a solicitor’s letter about what appeared to be a commercial activity and so we had to close down. However, we had solid group of customers who wanted us to open another place.

 I went to Belgium a month later to visit Lima, where I met Pierre Gevaert and his sister Marie (‘Mimi’). There were a few macrobiotic restaurants in Paris which I also visited – I was a bit surprised to see chicken with brown rice as the most popular dish at the Guen Mai restaurant. The owner scolded me for arriving at 8 “Nous sommes macrobiotiques et nous dormons tot” (“We are macrobiotic and we go to bed early”). No great feelings of solidarity there – I looked much too young and long-haired to these serious practitioners of the art.

 In August I found new premises, in the basement of the Gloucester Hotel on Westbourne Terrace. My brother Gregory joined me in the business and the restaurant, known as “Seed” was opened in early 1968.

 Seed had two rooms, in a big rambling basement of the hotel. One had cushions on the floor set around tables made out of the 4-5 ft diameter reels that mains electrical cable was wound around, so customers met one another as there were no reservations and no exclusivity of tables in that room. In the other room there was a tent style hanging from the ceiling and normal square wooden tables with bentwood chairs.

  The kitchen was small, but we had an outside yard where we stored organic vegetables that were delivered by Ivan Seruya or Michael van Straten, both of whom also supplied Wholefood, the Soil Association’s shop in Baker Street. Gregory struck up a good relationship with Lilian Schofield, who managed Wholefood and we regularly took their surpluses of vegetables to use in the restaurant.

 Mary Langman, one of the Soil Association’s founders, grew vegetables for Wholefood on a smallholding in Beckenham, Kent but anyone who was a Soil Association member felt they could just put a few boxes of organic cabbages on the train to Paddington, tell Wholefood it was on the way and that it would be dealt with. Gregory also found a supplier of fresh laver (nori) from Wales and we would collect it once a week from Paddington and use it to make laver bread.

 Our basis menu (called ‘Tomorrow’s You’) was Rice and Vegetables for 4 shillings (20p). Then there were two specials, differentiated by the size of the earthenware bowl it was served in. Light Special (7/6) and a Heavy Special (10/- or 50p), which was brown rice, vegetables nituke, and then two other portions that might be vegetable tempura, a bean dish, felafel, tabouli, hummus or whatever was special that day.

 We also supplied, as part of our outreach and education mission, a free meal, which comprised the Brown Rice and vegetables plus a cup of kukicha from the always-on-help-yourself tea boiler. You could order an umeboshi plum, a mu tea, a seaweed dish or vegetable tempura as side orders. The tape recorder belted out the latest sounds and grooves from a wide variety of rock genres, but mostly psychedelic rock and mellow blues.

 Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex walked to Seed to get the free meal and it was at Seed that he met Mickey Finn, an event that rock historians cited when calling for a blue plaque for historical buildings to be put up on the site many years later. Regular visitors included John and Yoko, Terence Stamp, most of the Stones as well as vegetarian/macrobiotic activists and enthusiasts and most of the denizens of the Underground alternative culture that was springing up all over the country.

 Eventually the free meal became an embarrassment as some people would ask for it, then order dessert, which was not part of the free meal and then offer to pay for the dessert with a five pound note (which was a lot of money in those days). It had become a tourist thing, and we were in a lot of guidebooks to ‘swinging’ or ‘alternative’ London. Gregory also published a magazine called Harmony, which was printed on the old Gestetner mimeographing machine on which we also printed our daily menus. It saw 3 editions and is a collector’s item.

 In 1969 we opened shop called Ceres Grain Shop in All Saints Road, Notting Hill, that set the pattern for the new generation of natural food stores. It was an instant success, despite selling none of the health food lines such as vitamins, brown sugar, honey, dairy products or anything made with sugar or refined flour. We provided a mail order service across the UK and were open on Sunday mornings for people who had to come from Norfolk, Wales, Cornwall and other far-flung places.

 In 1970 we decided to move to Wales and buy a 27 acre farm in the hills near Welshpool. Unfortunately I was outbid at the auction (it sold for £4400 and we only had £4250) so we decided to set up a wholefood wholesale business instead. Gregory produced packaging using Letraset paste down black lettering, different coloured papers, duplicated and heat sealed into plastic bags. We splashed out and printed Harmony Whole Rice 2 lb paper bags – this was our flagship product, but we also had buckwheat, millet, aduki beans, tamari, tahini, hiziki, umeboshi, Dentie, miso and patchouli oil on our first price list.

 The Harmony trademark that an artist friend of Gregory’s had designed showed a yin-yang symbol with two stylised leaves on the upward side and a two roots on the downward side. By now there were half a dozen shops modelled on Ceres (Infinity, Arjuna, Community, Harvest, Acorn, On The Eighth Day and Sesame) and we also sold into the conventional health food shops.

 Jay Landesman, who first published the works of Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg and John Clelland Holmes in 1948 in the ground-breaking periodical Neurotica and subsequently ran a beat night club in St. Louis and produced The Nervous Set which contained songs by his wife Fran which are still jazz standards, was our salesman. Under the monicker ‘Stan Stunning’ he would telephone health food shops (there was a long running postal strike at the time) and sell them either the ‘Down to Earth’ or ‘Traditional’ package which were bundles of our range that enabled a health food shop to have an instant macrobiotic offering.

 His opening line would run along the lines of “Good afternoon, this is Stan Stunning of Harmony Foods, have you heard of us, no?, well, tell me, do you get young people coming into your shop asking for things like miso, tamari, brown rice and aduki beans? You do? Well, we have the answer in our range of prepacked foods. He would then run through the list and make a sale at least 50% of the time. As the products sold through, we got reorders and the business was up and running. In the meantime we had moved Ceres Grain Shop to much larger premises on the Portobello Road, where it thrived and represented nearly half the turnover of Harmony Foods.

 In 1971 we worked with Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill on the first Glastonbury Festival. We did all the food and invited Infinity Foods to join us. We had garnered some experience of catering at rock festivals the previous year at Plumpton (National Jazz and Blues Festival) and at the Isle of Wight Festival.

We were the only food suppliers at Glastonbury and all the festivalgoers either ate our food (muesli, brown rice, red bean stew, porridge, unleavened bread with tahini/miso spread) or brought their own. We also supplied some food to Sid Rawles, who led the Diggers, who gave out free food from the cowshed near the farmhouse up on the hill.

 On the Sunday afternoon the local hot dog and ice cream vendors discovered there was a crowd at the farm and drove down to the site. They were met by the festivalgoers who blocked their route and rocked their vans, shouting ‘Out, Out Out’ until they turned around and disappeared.

 Also in 1971 my father Kenneth started Seed The Journal of Organic Living which was a thinly-disguised macrobiotic monthly of 32 pages that was humourous, witty, energetic and pushed a broad macrobiotic/ecological/vegetarian/natural lifestyle message. It was way ahead of its time, had a healthy circulation and still reads well all these years later.

 It ran until 1977, monthly, a total of 74 issues. Michio Kushi made the cover in 1975 and Terence Stamp was on the cover of Issue No 2 in 1971. We interviewed rock stars, actors and other people who had interesting and healthy lifestyles and sold a lot of ginseng, grain mills and water filters through our mail order pages. It was supported by monthly ads from Harmony, Ceres Grain Shop and Ceres Bakery that covered the basic costs and Kenneth gave his time for free. He had publishing experience and this was an ideal way to spend his retirement.

 In 1970 we also had the first visitors from Boston, who included Eric Utne (later founded Utne Reader), his girl friend Peggy Taylor (later founded New Age Journal), the ex-editor of the Boston macrobiotic newspaper Ron Dobrin, Bill Tara and his wife Renée and Paul Petrofsky (who founded Baldwin Hill Bakery).

 We rented them a house in Lancaster Road, just off Ladbroke Grove, where they had cooking classes, shiatsu classes and other activities. We were very busy with Harmony Foods and Ceres and the restaurant was becoming a managerial burden on Gregory’s and my limited resources. So we suggested that they take over and run the restaurant and use it to leverage interest in macrobiotics and the cookery classes and other activites at the house.

We gave them a few thousand pounds to refurbish the place and it reopened after being closed for 5 weeks. Gone were the low tables, cushions on the floor, bedouin tent atmospherics and in were bare floors and tables, white walls and a serene, clean atmosphere.

 The food was more austere but well prepared and presented. But the lively vibes of the old Seed were gone. When people laughed or talked too loudly a member of staff would approach them and suggest they tone it down and the whole atmosphere became reverential and studious compared to the rather carefree and raucous atmosphere that had prevailed.

I remembered Paul Petrofsky once saying that he felt, on entering Seed, that he ‘might get stabbed or something’ but had taken it as a joke. Gregory and I got personal phone calls from friends and long-standing customers complaining about the changes but we were both very busy on our other businesses and couldn’t turn back the clock.

 After about 6 weeks sales were down to 1/3 of what they had been and we had to close the place to stem the losses. We handed it over to a guy who renamed it “Magic Carpet”, broadened the menu away from macrobiotics but kept it vegetarian. After 4 months he gave it to a garage owner in payment of the restoration bill on his Jaguar S type and it then reopened as ‘Pasture.’ A few months later we opened a ‘macrobiotic workingman’s café’ called Green Genes in the old Ceres premises in All Saints Road – it was smaller than Seed but recaptured the friendly and slightly rambunctious atmosphere of the original

 Because Harmony Foods was growing fast we needed larger premises to pack and store our produce and we were about to sign a lease on a building near Ladbroke Grove when Bill Tara sat with me and Gregory in a car in Bayswater and broke the bad news to us.

He had been Vice President of Erewhon Foods and he felt he should tell us, before we signed the lease, that Michio and Paul Hawken had sent him over to England to set up Erewhon Europe, there would be no role for us in that business (we hadn’t asked) and that we should consider carefully as he would be sorry to see us in financial trouble because we hadn’t realised what was happening.

 Gregory found a great greeting card with a picture of a sword-waving Samurai on a horse being speared by a samurai on the ground, stuck the Harmony logo on the samurai on the ground and the Erewhon logo on the horseman and sent it to Paul Hawken. As it happened, Erewhon hit one of its first cash flow crises and couldn’t even offer Bill a ticket home.

In May 1972 we offered him the opportunity to manage our shop, Ceres – I had been managing it since the manager, Pam Donaldson, had fallen ill with brucellosis from drinking the milk on Michael Eavis’ farm in Glastonbury and now I was opening a bakery in the premises next door to the shop.

 Bill Tara and Peter Bradford then did a complete refit and redesign of the shop, opening it up in the back and putting in a herbs and specialities section in a little space in the middle. It was an ambitious redesign, cost us £7000, but we now had the spraunciest and most well-appointed shop in Europe.

However, it required a lot of people to keep it all going, we packed lots of stuff in premises rented from a nearby church, stock was all over the place, shoplifting got out of hand as there were lots of blind spots and we had to hire private security people and the ultimate indignity was that one of the staff, a member of the English (Maoist) Communist Party organised a group of staff and threatened to take the business over and run it as a worker’s commune.

 So we had to fire most of the staff after a rather acrimonious meeting in which we explained that property law and the lease on the property all stood in our favour and we also told Bill that we would have to get in a manager who could run the shop more effectively and with less revolutionary activity going on.

 We got a burly Irishman who had managed a delicatessen in Dun Laoghaire and he closed down the back section of the shop and squeezed all the activity into the front, put in a counter and reduced the staff while keeping sales up.

 Bill and Peter had, meanwhile, found premises in Old Street for the Community Health Foundation, which was to be the macrobiotic centre par excellence. I urged them not to move out of Notting Hill as that was still where the concentrated core population who understood macrobiotics lived, but they were seduced by the size and cheapness of the building and moved there, despite the availability of smaller and more easily manageable premises in Notting Hill.

 The CHF was a success, but was dogged by management and financial problems, became the East West Centre and also the home of Peter Bradford’s Freshlands shop that became the ‘Fresh’ in ‘Fresh and Wild.

 Harmony Foods continued (and continues) to prosper and its peanut butter became the number 2 brand in the UK, now known as Whole Earth, a name change we brought in in 1982 as we found that Harmony didn’t work for our export business as the trademark belonged to other people in Denmark and in Germany.

 In 1990 my kids launched Gusto, the world’s first energy drink, based on guarana, ginseng, Siberian ginseng and ‘Free and Easy Wanderer’, a Taoist herbal formula dating back to the 12th C. It was the spiritual descendant of the macrobiotic ‘beer’ that Ohsawa was working on for the 1966 Spiritual Olympics and which his wife Lima thought reactivated the filiarisis he contracted at Albert Schweitzer’s Lambarene institute and killed him.

 In 1991 my partner (now wife) and I founded Green & Black’s chocolate. We were looking for organic peanuts for the peanut butter and found some from Togo, West Africa, but they failed our aflatoxin tests. The same organic growers also produced cocoa beans and we made a 70% solids chocolate from them that led to a very successful chocolate brand.

 The 70% is still the best seller but the rest of the range all do well. I eat the others rather sparingly but have outgrown the illusion that there is a difference between brown rice glucose, apple juice glucose and sugar cane glucose – there’s no escape from simple sugars, so might as well be realistic and keep all forms of intake as low as possible.

 People ask how we managed to create a new confectionery brand in a sector where there have been no new brands in decades and I often think it’s because of being macrobiotic – I understand guilt about sugar consumption so know how to market a product that addresses that in a mature way.

 Our earliest packs contained a sugar warning on the wrapper: “Please note: This chocolate contains 29% brown cane sugar, processed without refining agents. Ample evidence exists that consumption of sugar can increase the likelihood of tooth decay, obesity and obesity-related health problems.

 If you enjoy good chocolate, make sure you keep your sugar intake as low as possible by always choosing Green & Black’s, the chocolate with the least sugar, the most cocoa solids, and organic too!” Nobody in their right mind in the sugar confectionery business would ever put something like that on their labels, but it worked and we have 5% of the chocolate bar market in the UK to prove it!

 Whole Earth and Gusto were sold to Kallo Foods in 2002 – I have since bought back the Gusto brand from Kallo and it was relaunched as a fully organic energy drink in April 2004.

 I am also working, with my son Karim (who produces Soma organic smoothies) on a new range of unique and yummy macrobiotic products so I hope there are still a lot of macrobiotics out there – watch the -The Macrobiotic Guide www.macrobiotics.co.uk website for advertised details.

 
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