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Interview with Fred Marken at Grilla Bites

The Lotus Guide
March/April 2007

When we started letting people know we were going to be interviewing local business owners and developers who are playing an active role in our communities’ development, one of the people we were told we should interview was Fred Marken from Grilla Bites. We’re finding that there are many people in our northern communities who are aware of the responsibility they have as developers and business owners to ensure sustainable growth with the least amount of environmental and social impact. Someday, this will be our children’s and their children’s communities, and the decisions we make, from the food we eat to the houses we build, will influence our, and their, quality of life.
We look at Lotus Guide as much more than a magazine; it’s symbolic of a movement that’s happening in many communities around the world to be more sensitive to the environment and to each other.

Lotus Guide: What was your first business here in Chico?

Fred Marken: My first business was a hippie clothing shop in 1969 with my wife. It was the campaign headquarters for Bobby Kennedy originally and was in downtown Chico.

We ran the business for about seven years with our two kids who were growing up and also involved in the business.

It was a very conservative community at the time and we were part of the hippie movement so it was, you might say, a quiet acceptance. But we ran a good business so it all worked out. Then I opened my next business in 1975, which was LaSalle’s, right down the street. So I kind of ran both of them for a while. There are a lot of stories in that episode of my life.

And then I started another business called the Elegant Spud, which was kind of similar to Grilla Bites; it had a feeling of openness and was a place where people could have their own private conversations.

LG: What are the important aspects of a business such as Grilla Bites?

FM: My philosophy of business is always based on people and community. You always need to pay attention to the bottom line, of course, but the space that people come into is important. It’s important to feel comfortable and welcome, and for that you need the feeling of openness and the feng shui needs to be correct. We seem to be entering a disenfranchised society and most restaurants are built for functionality and have forgotten about the customer. I call it “casual elegance.”

LG: And we all like to feel welcome; it’s part of feeling accepted, I believe. I was searching your website and found it to be not only a great source of information but also inspiration; it’s easy to see that you are very focused when it comes to family, community, and health. Was there a turning point in your life or did you always have these interests?

FM: I go back to the Haight Ashbury days in San Francisco listening to Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater. It seems I naturally gravitated toward healthier foods and healthier living. It was all part of breaking away from the status quo we were all caught up in. It only seems natural that this would also be integrated into my business life.

LG: Someone told us one time you were working with Costco?

FM: Oh, yes. That was my next life, chapter 2. I created a sauce I sold through Costco.

LG: Is it still available somewhere?

FM: Yes, you can still buy it at S&S Produce. We have a peanut sauce and ginger sauce and the teriyaki. It’s called Marken & Marken.

LG: It’s obvious to most people by now that buying and eating organic is much healthier, but can you tell us a little about the “hidden costs” of buying conventional food instead of organic?

FM: The environmental impact that conventional food is having on our environment is costing us a fortune, not to mention the health-care costs. The cost of eating organics is miniscule compared to the processed foods. It’s a joke. People just don’t get it. They don’t want to get it because it’s not convenient. But it ends up costing less in the long run.

LG: I would imagine there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, not to mention federal subsidies.

FM: People simply don’t understand how much their little world is controlled. People get offended if I try to control them, one on one; they get pissed off. They simply don’t realize how much of their life is controlled by dairy lobbyists and Monsanto lobbyists. Besides that, organics is community. I love all the people who grow organic. They have soul. To me, there are two kinds of organics. There’s corporate organics and there’s soul organics. Soul organics is people with soul, soul is hands on, literally. Miller Bread is total soul. He makes it in a wood-fired oven.

LG: On your website you say, “A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to local products; therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.” So it seems as if most every remedy we come up with to create a sustainable future is dependent on business leaders and people in positions of power developing a higher awareness of our interconnectedness to each other and our world. Would you like to comment?

FM: The solution needs to come from the awareness that’s not on the level of your typical investor. You have to be careful with investors. Because if you’re out there for ROI, “return on investment,” and not paying attention to the environmental impact, for instance, you might be disappointed with the returns on socially conscious investments. But what investors need to start looking at is what I call “return on your environment” and “return on your health.” We need more sensitive and knowledgeable investors. You have to invest in what’s going to change the world in a positive way. You can’t keep investing in the same old investments where making the most money as quickly as possible is your only concern.

LG: You need to be a little brave to do this, I suppose. It would probably help to go to investment and financial planners who know about socially conscious investments; as a matter of fact, we have a person right here in Chico, Beau McNicholas. Here’s a good question for you. If you had a magical microphone and could speak to the whole world and you knew that what you said would be heard and really understood and make a difference in people’s lives, what would you say if you had only 30 seconds?

FM: Well, I would say slow down and focus on your family and focus on people and get away from the materialistic world. Communities can all survive together if you work together, but if you don’t work together it’s really tough, and that’s what’s happened. We’ve stopped being a community, so we need to come together now more than ever. And it’s not just America; it’s the whole world. If we can do this we can solve any problem that comes up. So that’s it, world. Shape up and let’s do it!

LG: Well, Fred, I know there are a lot of people reading this who will say you’re a dreamer, but I can tell you for a fact that you may be a dreamer but you’re not the only one.

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© 2007, SpirituaLight Publishing


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