In 1970, a group of idealistic friends started selling vegetarian food in an LA cafe. Their cafe, at the back of a grocery store, catered to a crowd who were eager for sprouts and wind chimes and incense. But interest and capital grew.
Soon the friends took over the store and removed all the meat products. Although people told them they were crazy, Michael Besancon, Spencer Windbielthey, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin followed their hearts. (Besancon and Windbiel, went their separate ways in 1985 (Besancon is now global head of Purchasing & Sourcing) but two others, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin, continue to run the company today.)
And that’s how the Follow Your Heart vegan food company was born. Thanks to Goldberg and Lewin, vegans can purchase (instead of always having to make on their own) cheese, vegan mayonnaise (Vegenaise), and a host of other vegan and gluten-free products. They expect to do between $40m and $50m this financial year.
From the start, Goldberg wanted to be environmentally sound (the factory has skylights and solar power), compassionate, vegetarian, and profitable. He also didn’t want to spend his time traveling. And their model works: the cafe and store in Canoga Park is still thriving, even after 46 years, and the Follow Your Heart brand- the largest part of the company- has its wholesale business, based in a manufacturing facility a few miles away. The products are made in California and distributed to retailers all over the world.
Even though they took a big risk, doing what felt right made them happiest- and most likely healthiest, too. Without the constant stress of travel, and being able to have a very hands-on approach to the day to day aspects of their business, the brand is thriving. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.