When John Mackey dropped out of his second university, his aspirations to open a natural foods supermarket looked shaky. He had no money, no business training, and no degree. He hoped to open a vegetarian store in the carnivorous state of Texas. His mother thought he was wasting a good mind to become a grocer.
But Mackey, an unmotivated student, had suddenly found a purpose in natural foods while working at a collective, and he wasn’t going to let it go. Along with his girlfriend Renee Lawson, Mackey rustled up $45,000 from family and friends to start the business.
Mackey and Lawson opened Safer Way in 1978, knowing full well that health food was a gamble. When the couple used their apartment to store food, they were thrown out and forced to move into the second floor of Safer Way, where they showered with a hose.
But Texan customers embraced this unlikely supermarket, and Mackey soon had the confidence to merge with Clarksville Natural Grocery, partly by hinting to owners Mark Skiles and Craig Weller that he would put them out of business. Together, they opened a larger natural foods store in 1980 that would one day change the supermarket game. They called it Whole Foods.