12 Facts To Know About Erewhon: LA's Trendiest Gourmet Grocer

CORRECTION 3/27/23: A previous of this article stated Aveline Kushi sold the Beverly Blvd. Erehwhon location to Tony Antonci in 2011. Kushi passed away in 2001.

If you don't live in Los Angeles or spend much time there, you might not have heard about the nearly 60-year-old grocery store chain that is suddenly the place to be, especially among millennials. The thing that first made Erewhon special was its dedication to healthy, organic food and that continues to be a huge part of its appeal today. Not only does it stock minimally-processed food, but the majority of it also comes from local producers and growers. But more than that, what makes this place so special?

In the age of social media, Erewhon has all the makings of stellar TikTok reels. The stores are gorgeous and filled with even more gorgeous people, the juice bar whips up bright beverages that might cure whatever ails you, and the products are both good for you and wildly luxe. Like, luxe enough that you might not believe it if we told you. There are hours of online videos alone dedicated to people trying to guess how much 16 ounces of yogurt or a bottle of water costs (hint, it's a lot). But for all the people complaining about the prices, there are just as many loading up their carts and joyfully documenting the whole thing.

The name comes from an 1872 novel by Samuel Butler

When the Erewhon empire started in the mid-1960s, the owners had left Japan to pursue higher education in the U.S. but decided to focus on macrobiotics as the way forward. Michio and Aveline Kushi conceived of Erewhon as a way to educate people about the importance of a macrobiotic diet and help facilitate healthier lifestyles, based on Asian nutritional philosophies. But the original seed for Erewhon came from the 19th-century satire novel of the same name published anonymously by Samuel Butler. Interestingly, the word is an anagram of nowhere.

Erewhon, the fictional one, depicts a fairly dystopian society where illness is considered a crime, yet theft is rather empathetically accepted. In the novel, the protagonist crosses a mountain range and arrives in the undiscovered country (thought to be inspired by New Zealand), where he quickly realizes that everything is distinctly opposite to home. Names are anagrams of their British counterparts and parents must live with the children who have chosen them before birth. The Kushis saw this satirical take on life, most importantly the treatment of illness as a crime, and used it as the basis for the business' ethos. The name Erewhon has been used multiple other times in popular media, including "Dune" and "Doctor Who."

The original Erewhon store opened in Boston in 1966

Located in Massachusetts rather than sunny, celeb-filled LA, the original Erewhon wasn't much more than a 10-by-20-foot stall in a dimly-lit basement market. Owned by Michi and Aveline Kushi, it is still regarded as the first store of its kind in North America. The Kushis were advocates of macrobiotic and natural foods, stocking the stall with nutrient-dense offerings like dried beans, nuts, and organic greens. They were also among the first to offer traditionally made Japanese ingredients including soy sauce, miso, and tofu. Erewhon quickly partnered with organic farmers across the U.S. to bring organic foods, namely grains, directly to their customers.

By 1968, the store moved to a larger and brighter location across the street, giving the Kushis an opportunity to expand the business and hire employees. Two of these employees begin traveling to Japan to find better products and prices. In this way, Erewhon was also able to begin a wholesale department so that other retailers could carry healthy, macrobiotic products. By the early 1970s, the Kushis started printing a catalog and in turn, opened a large distribution center to accommodate all the incoming orders. The company expanded and more stores were opened, including Erewhon West in Los Angeles.

The owners were pioneers of the American macrobiotic lifestyle

Michio Kushi moved to New York to study political science at Columbia in 1949, and during this time he rediscovered the principles and spiritual beliefs of the macrobiotic diet he had learned while growing up in Japan. In 1954, he married Aveline, who had also left Japan to pursue an education in New York. Together, they began to teach macrobiotic theory as a way to restore physical and mental health.

The Kushis moved to Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1960s and eventually opened The Kushi Institute in the late 1970s. It was designed to be a peaceful space that offered students a chance to learn about "health, healing, and well-being". Aveline Kushi passed away in 2001 and Michio in 2014, with their children continuing to run the Kushi Institute until finally deciding to close it for good in 2017. Along with all of the work they did teaching and lecturing, the Kushis also authored more than 70 books about macrobiotics and well-being between them.

In 2011, the one location was purchased and the business expanded quickly

Beginning in the late 1970s, Erewhon experienced decades of financial strife, but the company rebounded in 2011 when Tony Antoci and his wife Josephine took over the market Beverly Blvd. location. Antoci had a background in food distribution and was looking for something new. The Antoci decided to run Erewhon as a more local grocery store, giving customers the experience of shopping in a local, mom-and-pop type establishment, albeit a very chic one.

Antoci has had the interiors of the stores designed to fit in a 10,000-square-foot space with narrow aisles and tall shelves, much the opposite of what you'd find in other grocers or big-box stores. Erewhon wants its employees in the aisles helping people and building relationships. The narrower spaces also mean that people will be closer together and will have to interact, getting to know each other and strengthening the community. As for prices? The stores, which have expanded to nine Los Angeles locations (with another in Pasadena on the way), aren't for the frugal. Erewhon prides itself on offering healthy food that's also incredibly luxurious, and there seems to be a market for that, especially in LA.

They are B Corp Certified and a Certified Organic Retailer

You're likely wondering what that even means, the B Corp part in particular. Let us enlighten you — B Corps (Beneficial Corporation Certifications) are companies that have completed an intense assessment of the ways that they benefit society in particular. Launched in 2006, more than 6,000 companies have now been awarded B Corp certification. This accreditation takes into account the company's social and environmental practices, transparency of their beneficial claims, and legal accountability to the entire company (not just the stakeholders).

Erewhon has a B Corp score of 84.6. In comparison, the median score of the average business is 50.9. In order to qualify, a company needs to score at least 80. This final number comes from consideration of five areas, including governance, environment, and workers. Erewhon scored highest in its community ranking, likely because of the economic impact the store brings with employment opportunities, as well as the commitment to diversity and inclusion. And while these credentials mean that the brand has committed to being on its best behavior, it can mean an increase in prices. Being a Certified Organic Retailer also requires accreditation by an agent trained by the United States Department of Agriculture, so consumers can be certain that what is labeled organic is fully organic in adherence to regulations.

The Erewhon membership program is a hotly debated topic among shoppers

It's entirely possible that you're willing to dish out the $200 Erewhon membership fee, especially if you don't bat an eye at a nearly $28 bottle of hyper-oxygenated water. While you don't need the card to shop there, it does offer some great perks. You can opt for just the cafe membership, which will only set you back $100 and works better for consumers who are just into smoothies and pre-made food. But, honestly, if you're already in love with the glam, coastal vibe of the place, why not go all out? Plus, members get a dollar back in points for every $10 spent, a complimentary monthly bevvie at the tonic bar, 25% off featured brands, and access to something called the "lifestyle collective" that gets you discounts on hotel stays to rowing machines. Also, free delivery ... but isn't part of the appeal of Erewhon going to the stores itself? Celebrity sightings, smoothies, and glistening piles of veggies all seem like worthwhile reasons to leave the house.

The cost of the membership has come under some criticism, with shoppers occasionally complaining that it seems excessive on top of the already higher prices. But if a luxury grocery experience is what you want, maybe that $200 card is completely worth it.

They're known for their over-the-top collabs with celebrities

Not only does Erewhon court influencers and young Hollywood for ultra-trendy collaborations, but partnering with celebrity chefs is another natural fit. Recently Chef Bae, Brooke Baevsky, a private celebrity chef in Los Angeles, revealed that she put together an ice cream and caviar sundae exclusively with Erewhon ingredients that tips the register at over $1000. This over-the-top concoction comes after her TikTok revelation that "you're doing it wrong" if you're not paying more than $100 for vegan cheese to make macaroni. Bae's tongue-in-cheek videos show her all-consuming love for the brand and the envious spending habits of her clients. Baevsky's recent cookie collab with the market was incredibly successful, selling out in the first three hours.

But maybe even more notable are the celebrity smoothies. Hailey Bieber's Strawberry Glaze smoothie, priced at $18, is full of skin-loving ingredients like collagen, super-trendy sea moss, hyaluronic acid, strawberries, and almond milk. Not only are fans raving that it tastes sumptuous and dessert-like because of the sweet strawberry glaze addition and creamy coconut, but it makes for a pretty stunning selfie, as well. Previously, Bella Hadid's Orange Creamsicle smoothie featured her own non-alcoholic beverage brand, while the Kourtney Kardashian Poosh Potion Detox smoothie was loaded with activated charcoal, blueberries, and avocado.

Erewhon searches out small-business suppliers for their products

One of the things that makes Erewhon stand out, from both a business and customer standpoint, is the willingness to make it easier for small start-up companies to become suppliers. The brand prefers to highlight smaller, and often local, businesses rather than filling the shelves with the same organic coffee or hot sauce that customers can get anywhere. These independent and unique brands are what give Erewhon its appeal and customers are willing to pay for it; exclusivity is one of the best marketing strategies there is.

By relying on smaller producers, Erewhon gives these newer companies the ability to break into the market without having to commit to enormous amounts of inventory that would be impossible to generate. With less than ten stores currently, brands can easily ship a box or two of inventory as the demand increases. Compared to being picked up by a chain grocery like Whole Foods, which would require hundreds of items at a time, the smaller business model works exceptionally well for up-and-coming producers. Sometimes, all it takes is for the right product to get into the right store, followed by one viral social media post to make that product a household name.

Celebrities and the wealthy love the luxe-healthy mix

Recently, many of the locations have seen an upswing in the number of celebrities visiting the stores in person and some of the managers have attributed this to COVID-19 quarantine. In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Jason Widener, Erewhon vice president of store development, went on to explain how the brand created an environment that felt both safe for customers and also provided them with someplace to go when everything else was locked down, saying that it was a combination of necessity and socializing. The star's shopping trips served to give the paparazzi a place to find celebs in a world that was otherwise completely shuttered, too.

Known as one of the best places to spot celebrities"in LA, there are a few locations that might net you a bigger star than some of the others. The original location on Beverly is supposed to be the first choice of stars like Cara Delevingne, Kaia Gerber, Eva Longoria, Owen Wilson, and Dakota Johnson, and it probably helps that the location is right beside CBS Studios. If you're in the mood for some Kardashians or Demi Lovato however, try the farther-afield Calabasas location.

The owners understand and curate for their specific demographic

The brand doesn't apologize about who it caters to — influencers, celebrities, and the healthy-wealthy of Los Angeles. The company stocks items that are unique, luxurious, and trendy with a focus on small and local businesses. The company itself identifies with the social media usage of its customers, curating a colorful feed of aspirational images, that includes some pretty gloriously colored smoothies, to its over 259,000 followers.

While the target consumers may love the niche wellness products that bring a certain cachet to their health and beauty routines, there are lots of others on social media with different outlooks. A video revealing some of the more outlandish prices, including $23 camel milk and $26 yogurt, left some TikTok viewers in shock. Many viewers railed against the unnecessary extravagance of the items, citing the dramatic inflation of food costs for the typical North American consumer, with one person calling the whole notion of the store "dystopian." No matter your feelings about the prices, Erewhon has still managed to cultivate an atmosphere that most shoppers really seem to appreciate, even if they're just stopping in for a quick snack — we've heard that the hot food is reasonably priced and nearly all restaurant quality.

It has become an influencer's dream come true

If you've gotten tired of watching content generators unpacking huge shipments of Amazon pallets, maybe it's time to give #ErewhonHaul a try. Recently becoming a thing in the world of voyeuristic videos, watching people pulling cucumber, sweet potatoes, and head of garlic out of a gorgeous reusable shopping tote can be kind of mesmerizing. Not on the same level as watching someone dig through a two-ton pile of plastic-wrapped cardboard boxes but entertaining, nonetheless. Delve deeper into TikTok and you'll definitely see loads of those intensely colored, delicious-looking smoothies that seem to be filled with some of the most magical ingredients on earth.

Influencers who aren't unboxing are definitely snapping pics of the brightly-lit markets, posing in the aisles looking SoCal chic, healthy and divinely happy to be there. And we can't really blame them. The whole aesthetic of Erewhon has moved away from the bean and cereal beige of the past, embracing a whole new era that just looks so good. And it's not just for show, either. The company has a list of ingredients that aren't approved in any item it carries, including all the biggest offenders, like corn syrup, processed sugar and flour, palm oil, artificial colors, and more.

There is some buzz about the LA-centric brand finally expanding to NYC

Erewhon owner Antoci hasn't been shy about his plans to open more Southern California locations, with locations opening in Culver City and Pasadena in 2023. While Erewhon has become a quintessentially LA phenomenon — a glossy and gorgeous place to pick up skincare smoothies and organic nibbles that make for superb social media — Antoci is thinking that the East Coast might be craving some of that sunshine-soaked vibe, too. Stripes equity firm revealed in 2019 that they had a "substantial equity stake" in Erewhon that would not only go towards opening more locations in Northern California but possibly in New York City as well.

Sadly, NYC comes after quite a few slated new stores in the home state. Glendale, Santa Barbara, and the Bay Area are all likely to get their own locations before NYC does. However, with the upscale Dean and Deluca gone, the city might be ripe for a new entry in the ritzy grocery category. In fact, prior to taking over Erewhon, Antoci had seriously considered being a Dean and Deluca franchisee — but in what might be the best business decision made to date, went with the Erewhon market instead.