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Bill White's—Sherman Oaks' First Health Food Store

Beginning in the early 1960s, Bill White's Foods for Health on Ventura Boulevard sold vitamins and organic produce and had a nifty and nutritious lunch counter. Ahead of its time when it opened, the store had a loyal following for 30 years.

I fondly remember visiting Bill White's quaint Foods for Health store in the early 1970s with my mom, Francene Lifson, to shop for some healthy "natural" food items she had read about in Look magazine, at a time when mothers were shying away from serving frozen vegetables at the dinner table. Foods for Health was probably the first store on Ventura Boulevard to feature organic produce and vegetarian cuisine at its splendiferous lunch counter.

As I grew older and wiser about my own dietary regimen and began a longtime commitment to long-distance running, Foods for Health became my main lunch stopoff for veggie sandwiches on great whole-grain bread with a side salad, and Hain canned but still awesome vegetarian chili, which they always had cooking at Foods for Health's little restaurant.

Lots of local celebrities such as Albert Brooks and rocker Tom Petty could be spotted at Foods for Health in the late 1970s (the name "Bill White's" was dropped around this time and the new owner, Phil Kim, kept only the "Foods for Health" moniker. Much of the interior decor stayed the same. In early 1994, damage from the Northridge earthquake proved too severe for remodeling, and the store closed. 

I recall buying a book in 1976 at Foods for Health titled Healthy Hair and Common Sense, by Dr. Dale Alexander. The book had tips for "saving your hair from falling out," despite the fact that Dr. Alexander's photo on the back sleeve showed a gleaming, balding pate!

Nevertheless, I took his advice to try the "healthy hair shake," and purchased chia seeds, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, which I'd put in a blender with milk and a banana and gulp down each morning for a couple of years—until I realized the reason my hair was so healthy was that I was 18 years old.

Foods for Health was also the first store where I purchased bee pollen in supplements—until they started causing cravings for Honey Nut Cheerios.

The store was used as a location in the cult classic film Valley Girl. Julie (Deborah Foreman) and her boyfriend Randy (Nicolas Cage) meet there for a date because Julie works after school at the store for her ex-hippie parents, who own the place—they even wear yellow "Foods for Health" T-shirts while selling their alfalfa sprouts and avocado sandwiches. 

Since the time Bill White's Foods for Health first appeared in Sherman Oaks, many other health food businesses have come and gone. I remember Natural Harvesters across from the La Reina Theatre, which was a state-of-the-art health food market. Healthy Discounts on Van Nuys Boulevard became a mainstay for buying bulk granola and fresh organic produce in the years after Foods for Health had shut down.

While in business, Foods for Health withstood the competition in large part because of a very loyal following, which included jazz drummer Stan Levey, a longtime Sherman Oaks resident. The restaurant was a place to hang out and share stories of the latest health food craze, of which I recall the Beverly Hills Diet (mainly pineapple-based) and Cara-Coa carob non-chocolate candy bars replacing the almighty Hershey bar for health nuts like me.

All these years later, I am still running and paying exorbitant prices for fresh-squeezed juices now available in all my local supermarkets. I often think of my simple and yet ultra-nutritious meals at the Foods for Health store and wish a simple, health-conscious lunch spot could open again in Sherman Oaks. Or is that what Mel's Drive In is supposed to be?

Laura Hunter April 09, 2012 at 09:24 AM
So glad to read this. I was a loyal customer there for at least 10 years before it closed, and we all had our unspoken 12 noon lunch date, all us self-employed folks who didnt have lunch croanies except each other.Great place to network! I was kind of new in the area, and was blessed to find this little heaven.Made so many connections there that to this day, 30 years later, I am still enjoying , that started all at that little awesome lunch counter. I remember Bob, The Karate Guy, Michael Cooke, the herbalist, Frances Brunner, overall health food advocate, David Medic, Massage Therapist, Pat Y., Yoga Teacher, Rebirther, Colon Therapist.. One connection led to another, and enhanced my life greatly. I remember sweet Mary who used to serve us with so much love, the owners, both Bill White & later the Kims who were happy to see us each day.The little meals were awesome! For a vegetarian like me, it was heaven--good prices, good food, great advice,,plus convenient natural food shopping all within 5 minutes of a drive from my home. I was the local Massage Therapist (legit), and Cher Look-A-Like, turned meditator, (Jesus is my Guru now). I also remember Bernie who used to play piano at the Sherman Oaks, Fashion Square, Sweet smiling Gent Ray, Hal who walked at Sherman Oaks Park. Many of these people are at rest now. How I miss those days! 2nd home to me! My life was greatly blessed there .Pls.contact should similar open.. 818-439-2216 ljoyhunter@aol.com Laura Hunter
Marvin Bradford April 09, 2012 at 07:53 PM
My name is Marvin and it was very pleasing to read a post that brings back great memories for you. It also reminds me of when I was growing up. This was before the days of health food stores. The kids in my neighborhood played baseball and after our games we would all congregate at the area commissary. There we would buy our milk and cookies (mostly forbidden today), laugh and talk of the game completed. I often think of those pleasant memories. I am now a 72 year old health and fitness nut, working out 2 hours a day for at least 5 days a week. At 5'11" and a muscular 190 lbs, I routinely run 2 miles per day and can bench press 210 lbs. I have also begun to write blogs at www.sportsandhealthgossip.info concerning natural health, sports and fitness. Please check it out. You may also email me at marv598@yahoo.com.
johnzarriaga April 10, 2012 at 07:51 AM
Reality TV can make it seem very difficult by over-dramatizing the time and energy needed to make a saving for you and your family, i always use websites like "Official Samples" to find free products and coupons
Pat April 10, 2012 at 11:31 PM
I don't remember Bill White's health food store at all.
stevie hirsch April 12, 2012 at 06:26 PM
i loved bill white's "foods for health" who can ever forget kathy (bill's partner), wanda or even francis (cindy williams mom) at the food counter! the vegetable soup was the best and the sandwiches and salads were great also! my ex-husband worked there and we just loved the place! i miss the old days & ways of small health food stores. the only one that comes close (but not nearly as small-but that old 70's feel) is follow your heart which i love also. in those days, i used to go between the two. loved it and loved seeing this article that reminded me of really fun days gone by!
gary starling September 06, 2012 at 01:45 AM
I worked there in 1976. Kathy and Bill were very kind. I was 26 and had just blown in from Florida and was an aspiring musician. My job was stocking and produce. I helped customers in between my core duties. My co-workers were Pam and a girl we called "the Kid" (I believe her name was Carol, but being younger she earned the kid moniker). I remember waiting on folks like Mickey Rooney, Steve McQueen, Joni Mitchell, Mike Farrell and Tom Hayden. Stan Levey was a great customer and great guy. We got along because of our jazz connection (he was a great drummer). Kathy was very kind and allowed me to take a long lunch one day so I could go to Joe Pass' house for a lesson. Eventually, I was hired away by Mrs Williams Organic Bakery in Burbank, but I have many fond memories of FDs for HLTH. -gary starling
Andy Hirsch January 04, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Yes, I am the ex-husband (Stevie Hirsch) who worked at Bill White's Foods For Health. So many, many memories of great meals and awesome nutritional information provided by Bill, Cathy, Wanda and Pam too!
Jessica Younger January 06, 2013 at 04:31 AM
My name is Jessica I was a little girl in the early 80's and lived behind bill whites. I was literally raised on the food served from the lunch bar. Such found memories of that place. I still have cravings for those salads and that amazing burger they served. Does anyone know how that burger was made ? And if there is like any cook books available that have the recipes of the amazing food they served ?

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