Mike Abrahams is the founder and owner of Wild Oats Natural Foods in Clifton, founded in 1981. One of the first shops of its kind, it quickly went from strength to strength and it’s a testament to the hard work of the team and the support of the people of Bristol that it’s still going strong today.
There can’t be many small business owners whose career path incorporates time working on the Hubble Space Telescope – read on to find out more about Mike’s fascinating past and how Wild Oats has stayed open for 38 years.
What do you do/sell and why?
Natural and organic foods including raw powders and live fermented foods, natural bodycare products, ecological and low waste household products, self-service bulk products (BYO containers) and household liquid refills, organic beers and sulphite-free wines, natural remedies and food supplements. We also excel in the provision of advice from a highly experienced and knowledgeable team of healthcare and product advisors.
We started business in 1981 in order to educate people in better healthcare through natural foods and nutrition – we started out regarded as a bunch of cranks but after 38 years most of what we were preaching has become almost mainstream.
How did you find yourself in Bristol?
I was born and raised in Leeds, but came here for my first degree in Aero Engineering in ’62, during which I fell in love with the city and its vibrant life. After a diversion to get a PhD in Agricultural Engineering in Newcastle in the late 60’s, I eventually ended up as an environmental test manager for the European Space Agency working on Satellites, Spacelab and the Hubble Space Telescope. It was during my travels around Europe I discovered and became engrossed by the importance of good nutrition to health. I left in 1980 returning to Bristol for the third time to set up Wild Oats, which at the time featured a cafe to demonstrate to people how to prepare natural wholefoods meals.
What do you love about the city?
It must be one of the few cities which has old suburbs that are not only a pleasure to live in but also to work in. I love the live music scene in the many pubs around the town, the high quality of vegetarian foods available in a score of cafes and restaurants, the theatres and the beautiful streets and parks.
How did you start your business?
We started slowly, knowing absolutely nothing about retailing or catering and learning by our mistakes. Because of the virtual non-existence of natural products in the country, we used to drive to Holland, Belgium and France to buy products from wholesalers to offer in the shop. It’s hard to remember how everyday items were unknown in this country – soy milk, rice cakes, live fermented foods, miso, sea vegetables etc. We had to set up the cafe in order to show people what to do with them.
How do you keep it going?
Paying attention to detail, looking after the staff as well as our lovely customers and continuing to offer exceptional service.
What’s your favourite thing about running an independent business?
Seeing the ever increasing numbers of customers who have successfully taken a natural approach to solving their health problems returning to tell their stories.
What are the challenges?
Intense competition from not only from the internet but also supermarkets and local retailers who are jumping on what has now become a fashionable bandwagon.
What made you sign up to accept Bristol Pounds? What do you like about the scheme?
I love the idea of keeping locally generated cash local. Too much cash leaves the region to be stashed away offshore frequently avoiding paying realistic taxes and draining the region of its resources. Every Bristol Pound spent is a conscious statement of support for the city and its inhabitants.
Where do you spend your Bristol Pounds?
I use them to pay local suppliers, both wholesalers and retailers.
What’s different about Bristol Pound customers?
They are all lovely and passionate about the local economy
What are your five favourite places/shops/restaurants/etc in Bristol and why?
There are so many amazing places and businesses in Bristol but the independent ones offer something different that we love. To name a few, The Spotless Leopard [B] is amazing for vegan food as is Eat Your Greens up on the Wells Road. It’s also wonderful to have so many good charity shops in the city.
Thank you Mike!