Naples area seeing all-organic business boom

David Albers/Staff
- Store manager David Hernandez delivers a slice of pizza to customers seated outside Truly Organic Pizza on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in North Naples.

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David Albers/Staff - Store manager David Hernandez delivers a slice of pizza to customers seated outside Truly Organic Pizza on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in North Naples.

For 10 years Donald Lippe has been helping customers of Nature's Garden of Naples maintain a holistic lifestyle.

The little mom-and-pop organic shop off U.S. 41 North and Golden Gate Parkway has been entrenched in the community for nearly 20 years. But when it comes to the organic movement, Nature's Garden is no longer the only game in town.

From spas to pizza joints, new organic businesses are popping up all over Southwest Florida.

"We don't mind a little friendly competition," Lippe said. "It never hurt anybody."

There are at least five local hair salons that use all-organic products, one spa, at least two entirely organic dry-cleaners, and a couple of local shops that specialize in organic groceries. Although the Naples Chamber of Commerce does monitor the number of new business opening in the area, there isn't a specification for organic business versus conventional, said chamber President Mike Reagen.

Lippe said he's seen a steady increase in new customers to Nature's Garden. He attributes the growth to the burgeoning health-conscious movement, where customers demand products and food made without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, hormones or genetically modified ingredients.

Capitalizing on the momentum, Jason Chang opened Truly Organic Pizza in North Naples in March. The idea for the business came while Chang struggled to get his two young children to eat healthier foods.

His is the only certified organic pizzeria in the Naples area, meaning everything in the restaurant, from the ingredients to the cleaning products, is organic.

"I grew up in Taiwan on a farm. We were dirt poor. ... We had no choice but not to use chemicals," Chang said. "In America, people are developing diabetes, disease in older people, childhood obesity. That's all got to be a reflection of what we're putting in our bodies on a regular basis."

While the owners of all-organic businesses tout the quality of their products, most also acknowledge that they tend to cost more than the non-organic variety.

In Southwest Florida, there only are two commercial farms that are certified organic, meaning the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found their farming methods don't use human waste in the fertilizer, don't use synthetic chemicals to keep bugs away, and the farmland has been free of chemicals for three years.

Eric Oakes, owner of Oakes Farm Market, said his business tries to support local farms as much as possible. But when the Florida growing season is over, they have to get produce from as far away as California and organic Amish farms in Pennsylvania.

"It's more expensive to grow organic and there's not enough supply for the demand," Oakes said. "But it's better health-wise to eat organic, worth the price."

Jennifer Alvarez, owner of Purely You Spa, an eco-friendly, all-organic spa in Naples, said her customers don't flinch at the prices of her services, which range from $20 to $600.

"A conventional product might be less in the short term but you use more product and it is not necessarily beneficial," Alvarez said. "Our products are so healthy for the skin that a little bit goes a long way. So it might be more expensive, but it has long-term benefits."

Operating Truly Organic Pizza is expensive and requires meticulous planning and calculations, Chang said. He flies in his meat and cheese from Wisconsin, gets his flour from Massachusetts, his pork from Iowa and his hot sauce from Arizona.

About 40 percent of Chang's total costs come from his ingredients, compared to 25 to 30 percent for most national non-organic food chains, he said.

"It's a careful science," Chang said. "But if you have a concept, and achieve the goal, profit will always follow."

So far, that has been the case for Chang.

Since March, when Truly Organic Pizza opened in Granada Shoppes near U.S. 41 North and Immokalee Road, Chang said he has been able to make a profit and is expanding locally. Eventually Chang plans to expand his all-organic concept into Atlanta and then slowly inch up toward New York.

"I want to promote people from within," Chang said. "Employees can move from drivers to managers to store owners, where they invest money to open new stores that they ultimately run and have a share in the value of the company.

"We are all working toward a bigger goal."

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