At a time when more and more people desire to eat natural, wholesome foods and participate actively in their health and wellness, Karen Pilson, owner of Nature’s Own natural foods market located at 195 Bell Avenue in Southern Pines, beams as she shares her passion with her customers, greeting them by name and answering their questions with an extensive knowledge of her products – and a big, warm smile.
Pilson has offered a wide selection of natural, organic and herbal food products as well as locally produced products for over 27 years, continuously expanding the store to meet demand.
“We opened in 1987,” says Pilson. “This is our third location.”
First located up the street on old US Highway 1, Nature’s Own occupied space next to a blind store and a copy store for eight years. With the development of Cam Square, the store expanded to 3000 square feet and added a small restaurant. The market moved to its present location just off Highway 1 behind the Ford dealership five years later.
“This was Scotty’s True Value Hardware Store,” Pilson says. “There was nothing in the building, no sheetrock on the walls, just insulation with plastic over it and a concrete floor. It took about a year to remodel the building. Every now and then, somebody will come in and say, ‘I’m looking for the gardening hoses,’ or something like that. It’s pretty funny.”
Three years ago, Pilson increased the store’s size another 3000 square feet, expanding the juice bar and adding The Kitchen at Nature’s Own, where customers may partake of freshly prepared organic fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, fair trade organic coffee, homemade breads and muffins, organic soups, sandwiches and salads, available to eat in or take out.
Pilson credits the Internet to a great degree for the changes in healthy living habits that have supported the market’s growth.
“I definitely feel that is a place where the Internet has made a huge difference,” says Pilson. “Over the past 27 years, I’ve seen an incredible interest in what really matters in life. When we first opened, all of the people who were buying stuff were older customers buying vitamins, and they’re still doing that. Over the last 15 years, younger people are open to learning about eating better, taking supplements. I think people want to be in more control of their health instead of waiting for something to happen and then taking care of it, definitely a ‘Let’s prevent disease’ approach. They’re going on websites, checking in and finding supplements that may help. They do so much research as far as being proactive in their healthcare.
“And they’re interested in things that people would never have been interested in before. Years ago we had quinoa, but nobody ever bought it. Now it’s common knowledge. It’s on menus, so I’d say this is a huge, widespread interest in eating healthier. We see more families, not just the older generation, which has benefitted our jobs and expansion.”
Part of that expansion includes 195, the restaurant adjoining Nature’s Own. Chef Prem Nath, one of America’s Best Chefs, serves American Fusion cuisine for lunch and dinner in a “casual, contemporary setting” and has supported local farmers for 20 years.
“When we first opened in Cam Square, we had a tiny little restaurant with 10 tables,” Pilson says. “When we opened here, we changed the name of the restaurant, Prem came with his background and it became a separate entity.”
A natural extension of 195 is the recently added outdoor cocktail lounge, The Porch. From April through October, skilled and adventurous mixologists serve a limited restaurant menu and concoct craft cocktails behind a hand-built bar of 3000-year-old cypress wood from Jacksonville, Florida.
“The Porch is something that we really wanted to do for years but had to wait for the right time,” says Pilson. “Tony Cross, the restaurant manager, barrel ages a lot of his own spirits. He makes his own juices fresh. He makes his own syrups. He’s a pretty special part of the cocktails out there. Those are all his recipes.”
But Pilson’s passion for wellness extends beyond the market and restaurant. After completing her nine-week-long training in California in 2012, she opened Bikram Yoga Southern Pines just across the street in July 2013. The 3000-square-foot space includes a studio, retail area, men and women’s showers, a
room for massage therapy and a room for yoga instructors, some visiting from other countries, “to hang out.”
From the store, to the restaurant and cocktail lounge, to the yoga studio, everything in Pilson’s vision is tied into living well, and she’s eager to share that vision with her customers.
“My attitude about this store is that it’s always been my passion, and I got involved in this when I was about 18. It’s just always been something I’m passionate about, so it never felt like coming to work. It’s just my life.
“The main thing that I’m so amazingly grateful for every single day is the people who come into the store, that I meet here, that come to the studio. These people are family. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life, having this store.”
For more information on Karen Pilson and Nature's Own, visit naturesowninc.com, www.195pinehurstdining.com or find them on facebook.
Karen Gilchrist is a writer, yoga instructor and longtime resident of Southern Pines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.