The small wooden sign on the façade of Sprout House has a vintage look. And no wonder. It is the original sign, dating back 37 years, to the opening of the shop — a time when so-called “health food” was barely a ripple in the food world.
Blake and Marie Maconochie were already advocates of a healthy lifestyle in 2002 when they spotted what Marie calls “one little ad” offering a small, natural-foods store for sale.
“It’s gotta be Sprout House,” the Maconochies immediately thought, because even 14 years ago, the trend was still in its infancy and there were few places where organic food could be found.
And they were right.
The opportunity came at just the right time for the couple, who were ready to change careers: Blake from his building maintenance work and Marie from her job as a wine consultant.
They were the first to answer the ad and bought Sprout House on the spot. At the time, the strip of Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe Park where the shop was located had yet to blossom. They’ve watched as new restaurants and businesses have moved in — including the working gas station across the street that’s now the popular Red Crown restaurant — making the formerly quiet neighborhood more vibrant.
The storefront next door to Sprout House, for instance, was vacant until Marie touted it to a friend who was looking for a spot for her yoga studio. It makes a nice juxtaposition for a natural foods market.
The Maconochies have made many improvements, starting with gutting the 860-square-foot space, using recycled wood and nontoxic paint and adding a kitchen. That’s where Marie spends much of her time making vegetarian and vegan soups, sandwiches, salads, and other prepared foods, including the oatmeal raisin cookies that are the shop’s best-sellers.
Marie draws from her wine background to get ideas for soups by thinking of regions and giving her soups an international spin. Because she uses no butter, cream, or meat, she says ingredients such as spices and herbs from Indian curries, French tarragon, and Korean kimchee are vital. She has filled a notebook with dozens of recipes developed in the 14 years since the Maconochies took over.
They use pretty much every inch of the rest of the space to display organic, non-GMO, and preservative-free products such as fresh produce, spices, bread from Avalon Bakery, raw grains, and holistic vitamins. There are also two tables for those who stay to enjoy the soups and sandwiches and the fresh-squeezed juices that include apple, carrot, kale, and beet.
Blake handles the inventory and is the money manager.
“I watch every cent that comes through the door, because I have to,” he says, adding that he learned that lesson during the downturn of 2008. He is constantly re-evaluating the inventory and is on the lookout for new products because every inch of space has to be maximized.
There aren’t many major distributors of organic products, according to Blake, and he says he not only evaluates the quality of the products they offer, but he also wants to buy from sources that “produce without stressing the environment.”
That Blake and Marie have succeeded in their efforts to bring whole foods to their customers is evident in the number of people who travel long distances to get to Sprout House, and often tell the couple “I wish you were in my neighborhood.”