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Oct. 6, 2022

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Whole Foods cofounder is building chain of cafes, wellness centers

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Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey is planning a second act when he retires from the Amazon-owned grocer next month: building a chain of plant-based restaurants and wellness centers that offer fitness and spa services.

Corporate records list Mackey, 68, as a partner in Healthy America LLC, a startup that raised about $31 million from investors earlier this year and aims to launch a “national network” of medical wellness centers and vegetarian restaurants.

One now-closed job posting calls the venture “an evidence-based lifestyle company, leading the convergence of culinary, healthcare, and wellness. For the first time ever, we are bringing together all three under one roof, to meaningfully transform the health and wellbeing of individuals.” The posting envisions Healthy America offering both a membership program and a-la-carte public access to its facilities.

Incorporated in 2020, Healthy America is based in Austin, Texas, like Whole Foods and staffed by veterans of the high-end grocer. Its chief executive officer is Betsy Foster, a longtime executive who left Whole Foods in 2020. Walter Robb, Whole Foods’ co-CEO when he departed in 2017, is listed alongside Mackey as a partner. Former executives from Whole Foods’ store development, finance and human-resources departments have also joined the startup, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Robin Kelly, a spokesperson for the new venture who previously worked in public relations at Whole Foods, declined to comment.

The first Health America location, under the brand Love Life!, is expected to be in southern California, according to a person familiar with the plans, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss them publicly. A bare-bones Love Life website teases a 2023 launch date and asks visitors to sign up for updates.

Mackey is credited with helping popularize organic foods in the US. He co-founded a natural foods store in 1978 and merged with a rival to form the first Whole Foods two years later. The store grew into a national chain, largely through acquisitions of regional competitors. Mainstream grocers eventually started stocking healthier and organic products, putting an end to Whole Foods’ rapid growth and setting the stage for its sale to Amazon.com Inc. for $13.7 billion in 2017. Last year, Mackey announced that he would retire in September 2022, handing the reins to Chief Operating Officer Jason Buechel.

A longtime vegetarian who went vegan in the 2000s, Mackey has advocated healthy eating with an almost religious devotion and blended that mission into his company’s culture. A libertarian, he has long portrayed health and diet largely as matters of personal choice.

The new venture’s restaurants offer “a broad spectrum of eclectic plant-based dining options, ranging from the most health-promoting to a balanced indulgence,” another job posting says, while the wellness centers are described as “rooted in lifestyle medicine,” featuring “the best of Western and Eastern medicine, alongside wellness, educational and fitness and spa services.”

Florida state records show Healthy America purchased a vegan restaurant in Miami called Love Life Café last year.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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