Hippies and snobs. Those are the kinds of people shopping for organic, natural or specialty foods, right?
“Wrong!” said Natural Pantry owner Vikki Solberg, as she laughed and poked at the common misconception.
The Natural Pantry, Anchorage’s largest, full-fledged organic grocery store, is moving.
“The answer is simple. We’ve rented for 37 years. We wanted to own our place, so no more leasing,” Vikki said.
The Natural Pantry — a family owned and operated business by Vikki and her husband, Rick Solberg — is known for its vast selection of organic groceries. This includes fresh produce, meats, dozens of bulk food bins, an array of allergy-friendly items, vitamins, lotions and kitchenware. There’s something for everyone.
The business is moving literally down the road — from the University Center to 36th Street, adjacent to the Z.J. Loussac Public Library.
Vikki said there will be a soft opening in mid-March and that there will be a grand opening in April.
Vikki said the sales floor will almost double in size and is comparable to a Carrs Quality Center grocery store. There will be dozens of positions to be filled. Among several new features are the following:
Hydration Station: It will be located in a spacious, half-sphere shaped dining area and will feature a variety of organic fresh juices, smoothies, espressos and teas. A door leads to a patio where guests can dine.
28-foot salad bar: This salad bar will feature dozens of selections of fresh organic salads and entrees.
Several shelves of grab ‘n’ go items: Vikki said this is ideal for “busy UAA students.” It will include all-organic items such as panini, fresh breads, cheeses and sandwiches. There will also be gluten-free items like pastries and pizzas.
Gluten-free kitchen: This kitchen is hidden in the back of the store, where no one working in other sections is allowed to come in. It has its own ventilation system that cannot get cross-contaminated by the system of the other kitchen. It has its own coolers, freezers and bins.
New bulk items and station: Honey and maple syrup will be sold in bulk. There will also be natural lotions, conditioners, shower gels and shampoos, where customers can fill reusable bottles at a station with a sink. Vikki said this is a great way to save money, and travelers can fill 3-ounce bottles before a trip.
Great wall of chocolate: There will be a 36-foot section covering a massive wall with “everything chocolate,” such as specialty chocolate chips, liquid chocolate, morsels, dipping chocolates and much more.
Humble beginnings to a bright future
Vikki said she and her husband started with a van full of wheat and other bulk items. Then the demand grew and they opened the Natural Pantry in 1976 when their first child was only 2 years old.
Vikki recalled times her husband worked a full-time job and spent his spare time making repairs to their first store. She would often work six to eight hours pregnant on the same days of her delivery dates.
“It’s all evolved. And 37 years, 11 children, 16 grandchildren, mixed with a few moments of sweat, blood and tears later, here we are,” Vikki said.
She had a necklace her husband gave her with little gems representing all 16 of her “grandbabies,” perhaps future owners of the thriving Natural Pantry.
Vikki teared up as she showed little touches here and there, such as a place where handicap-accessible carts will be available for customers — her tributes to her “sweetheart of 42 years” in their new Natural Pantry Home.
Rick wheeled around in his wheelchair — a result of diabetes over the years — and asked his wife if she needed anything as she gave the exclusive tour.
When asked how he felt about the new store he simply said, “I stopped in for a minute, and I’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” as the 5 o’clock traffic was dying down.
“We just love our new home here (at the Natural Pantry). We both stop by here together every day,” Vikki said as she stood by Rick.