Bernadette Martin has organized the Long Beach farmers market since 2008, and many were the market days when she would cross Park Avenue to visit Bob’s Natural Foods, buying a fresh-pressed juice or a salad. She’d say to owner Bob Binder, "Hey, let me know when you want to retire; I might want to buy the shop."
In 2018, Binder decided to retire, and Martin decided she indeed did want to buy. But she needed to tread lightly when making any changes. The store, which first opened in Long Beach’s West End in 1975, moved to its present location in 1977. Martin had generations of health-conscious Long Beachers depending on her.
She scaled back the sprawling menu to a more manageable roster of salads, wraps, smoothies and grain bowls (including, for breakfast, steel-cut oats topped with organic fruit). But she doubled down on juices. Binder had been an early advocate of juice power and his signature "Alka-tonic" — made with, among other ingredients, reverse-osmosis water, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, lemon juice and grapeseed extract — is still the star of the show, backed up by "Dawn Patrol" (carrots, orange, lemon, turmeric, ginger), "Liquid Gold" (apples, lemon, ginger, turmeric), "Spicy Detox" (cucumber, greens, wheat grass, apples, lemon, ginger and cayenne) and "Cell Energizer" (celery, parsley, pineapple, coconut water, chia, spirulina).
Demand for juice was so strong, Martin invested in a cold-press bottling system that maintains the juice’s active ingredients for four days. "With juices ready to go in the cooler, we can serve more people," she said, "we’ve sold 5,000 bottles so far this year."
Traditionally, health food stores have been more adamant about organic produce than local produce, but Martin’s involvement in the town’s farmers market translates into as much local produce as she can get her hands on. What she can’t source locally, she buys USDA certified organic.
Under Martin’s ownership, the store’s grocery product mix (all organic) has been pruned. "You can get almost everything with Amazon and Instacart," she noted. "The future of a small, community store has got to be stocking things that you can’t get anywhere else."
That said, you’ll find a full line of canned goods, nuts, teas, cereals and grains, many of them produced by Cadia, a high-quality, good-value brand that sells only to independent stores and not directly online to consumers.
In 2016, Martin oversaw the opening of the Taste NY Market at the Long Island Welcome Center off the LIE between exits 52 and 53. It was not only her first foray into non-farmers-market retail, but it introduced her to scores of New York State food producers. At Bob’s, she stocks Coastal Craft kombucha (made in Oceanside), MUD vegan "ice cream" (from Rockaway Beach), honey from Oceanside and Hicksville and vegan "milks" from Elmhurst Dairy, the century-old Queens-based dairy that, in 2017, switched to plant-based products.
Bob’s is one of a handful of Long Island health food stores that opened in the 1970s and are still going strong. Its contemporaries include Jandi’s in Oceanside, Rising Tide in Glen Cove and Cornucopia Natural Foods in Sayville (all founded in 1976) and Sherry’s in Babylon, which opened in 1972.
Bob’s Natural Foods is at 104 W. Park Ave., Long Beach, 516-889-8955, bobsnaturalfoods.com