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Antoci Household Interview – The Hollywood Reporter

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Possibly it was in 2014, when its second location opened within the Kardashian-rich foothills of Calabasas.

Or was it 2018, when Kanye West tweeted about “Erewhon drip,” sending legions of Yeezy wearers on a mad scramble for (then-bootleg-only) merch? How concerning the summer time of 2022, when TikTok caught on to its Hailey Bieber smoothies ($18 and fortified with issues like “important proteins vanilla collagen” and “hyaluronic acid”), unleashing an avalanche of #Erewhon-tagged content material to the tune of 450 million views?

It’s up for debate what the true tipping-point second was that remodeled Erewhon from simply one other L.A. well being meals market right into a money-minting retail phenomenon. However there may be no arguing that the wildly standard chain with the unusual identify — pronounced “air Juan,” an anagram of “nowhere” — is doing one thing proper. 

At its tenth and latest location, a flagship retailer in Pasadena that opened Sept. 13, gross sales have been so sturdy that 40 staff wanted to be added to the 140 already employed. Erewhon’s shops — all of them situated in prosperous neighborhoods inside Los Angeles County — are averaging weekly gross sales of $1,800 per sq. foot, bringing in about $1 million in gross sales per retailer every week. By comparability, a well-trafficked Complete Meals — which many really feel has seen a dip in high quality and cachet since Amazon acquired it in 2017 — earns about the identical in a a lot bigger retail house.

For these dwelling exterior L.A. — or with out entry to the web — what’s Erewhon, precisely? For starters, it’s a glossy, inviting house (the shops are designed by Belgian architect Humberto Nobrega) for stocking up on fashionable dietary supplements like sea moss and lion’s mane mushroom; cult sizzling bar choices (the natural buffalo cauliflower is a best-seller at $19 a pound); smoothies ($12 to $22, based mostly on elements and superstar endorsements); pristine, non-genetically modified produce and wholesome snack meals with phrases like “heavenly,” “good” and “easy” of their names.

However it additionally has turn into Hollywood’s trendiest accessible gathering spot, the place, freed from velvet ropes and bouncers, the match and well-known collect to sip, munch and flirt proper alongside the vacationers — groupies, actually — who arrive straight from LAX to pose for selfies with smoothies in hand. 

“It’s the quintessential L.A. expertise as soon as offered by style boutique Fred Segal,” explains L.A. artist Alex Israel, an Erewhon zealot who visits the shop each single day. “Within the ’90s, youngsters like me used to save lots of up our cash to purchase something we may at Fred Segal. We’d simply wish to be there: learning the manufacturers, the music and the opposite consumers’ outfits, automobiles and attitudes. And now Erewhon is on the highest of that checklist, giving the dayglow L.A. fantasy to all who go to, day by day of the week.” (Israel teases a “particular mission” involving Erewhon coming in 2024.)

Before any product makes it onto store shelves, it’s assessed by Josephine Antoci, who manages the company’s entire food program, including its hot bar dishes.

Earlier than any product makes it onto retailer cabinets, it’s assessed by Josephine Antoci, who manages the corporate’s complete meals program, together with its sizzling bar dishes.

Photographed by Maggie Shannon

The Hollywood A-list can’t appear to get sufficient of Erewhon: Andrew Garfield, Dakota Johnson, Miley Cyrus, A$AP Rocky, Jake Gyllenhaal and Lily-Rose Depp have all been noticed there. And so they solely proceed to flock: Within the yr since Bieber’s smoothie went viral, tons of of celebrities and influencers — of wildly various superstar and affect — have tried to get their names on their very own tonic bar concoctions. Solely a handful have succeeded. You’re both a Bella Hadid, otherwise you ain’t.

It goes on: Erewhon is on-line retail. It’s streetwear drops. It’s Coachella activations. Some fanatics, like Israel, insist it’s a lifestyle. It’s additionally a viral advertising juggernaut but manages to be so with nearly no in-house advertising staff and 0 promoting funds. 

However simply who’s behind this well being and wellness monster? That was the query I posed to myself as I pensively munched on a slice of natural pepperoni pizza ($7, one among Erewhon’s extra reasonably priced menu objects) on the Silver Lake outpost, which opened amid the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020. 

The reply shocked me. It was not, in reality, the brainchild of some bone broth-sipping, immortality-obsessed Physician Frankenstein. Nor was it cynically birthed in a company boardroom after a number of rounds of Goop-funded focus-group testing.

It got here from the Antocis — only a candy, all-American, extraordinarily wealthy household from Brentwood. However don’t let the healthful exterior idiot you. The Erewhon empire was not constructed by luck or by chance, and the Antocis, canny entrepreneurs that they’re, have within the span of a decade joined the ranks of the world’s most influential wellness tycoons. They’re the Murdochs of macrobiotics — replete with two sons and a daughter keen to affix the household enterprise (in reality, one already has). And wherever they take Erewhon subsequent, you may be certain the world will probably be watching.

***

“The very first thing that individuals say about Erewhon is that it’s actually costly and stuffed with celebrities,” says Josephine Antoci, the publicity-shy half of the married couple that envisioned Erewhon. “However it’s greater than that. We didn’t construct our enterprise by being the most costly or catering to celebrities. It grew very organically, which is good.” Her son Alec Antoci, who oversees Erewhon’s style collaborations, interjects, “No pun meant.”

Alec Antoci

Alec Antoci

Photographed by Maggie Shannon

The Antocis — dad Tony, 55, mother Josephine, 56, eldest baby, Alec, 25, and their youngest, 21-year-old Maddy, enrolled in an actual property program at USC (a center baby, Austin, 23, isn’t keen on the highlight) — are seated within the backyard terrace exterior the Pasadena location. The house is designed to be welcoming — with misters, heaters and a cedar trellis that strikes in line with daylight — and is filled with consumers, seemingly overjoyed to have someplace to hold that isn’t a Starbucks. 

It’s a Thursday, and the lunch rush is gathering steam. Inside the shop, a pristine temple to wholesome dwelling — even the loos are lovely — a line 20-deep has already fashioned on the smoothie bar. A vacationer couple of their 50s snap selfies in an aisle lined with baggage of Irish moss and cacao powder. A woman, about 12, tugs at her mom’s sleeve: “Look, Mother: Hailey Bieber!” I spin round: It’s not really Hailey Bieber, however relatively Bieber’s identify on the tonic bar menu, which prominently options her Strawberry Glaze Smoothie.

All this impressiveness descended from extraordinarily humble beginnings. Erewhon was based in 1966 in a tiny 10-by-14-foot basement in Boston by Aveline and Michio Kushi, pioneers of the trendy well being meals motion, who then opened their first West Coast retailer on Beverly Boulevard in 1969. However this Erewhon — the one well-known the world over — really started in 1986 in a Chinese language restaurant in Beverly Hills referred to as Chang’s Kitchen. 

That’s the place Tony, then 17, and Josephine, 18, met — Josephine serving to the kitchen employees, Tony taking telephone orders for supply. Josephine had simply emigrated from Taiwan and was dwelling with relations whereas enrolled at Santa Monica Faculty. Tony, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, grew up the center of three boys in Pasadena. “My grandfather and his 4 brothers landed right here within the Fifties,” he says. “They operated a liquor retailer referred to as Vito’s Liquor Retailer on Valley Boulevard for a few years, which my dad ended up then shopping for from his father.” His father parlayed that into different profitable companies, importing every little thing from Maine lobsters to German automobile components. However he died when Tony was simply 15. “He left us at such a younger age,” Tony says. “After that, it was my mother who inspired us to work exhausting.” At 21, Tony misplaced his mom, too. “That’s what I lived with day by day,” he says. “It’s a tough time.”

At that time, Josephine had been in his life for 3 years. They married in 1993. Earlier than her dying, Tony’s mom taught Josephine how one can prepare dinner all of the Italian dishes her son beloved. Josephine was a pure. “My mom is the most effective prepare dinner on the earth,” says Alec. “I’ll drop something and head house if she says she’s making dinner.” (The three Antoci kids nonetheless dwell at house. “It’s a tough place to go away,” says Maddy.) Josephine manages all the meals program at Erewhon, creating and overseeing all the recent bar dishes and assessing each product desperately making an attempt to make it onto retailer cabinets. “You don’t actually need to learn the elements,” she says. “We do all that for you.” In fact, it additionally has to style good. All that at-home market testing has taken its toll. “I simply misplaced 40 kilos,” says Alec, who credit intermittent fasting. “I had gotten as much as 200 kilos and was beginning to look thick.”

The Sept. 13 opening of Erewhon’s Pasadena store

The Sept. 13 opening of Erewhon’s Pasadena retailer

Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Every day Information/Getty Pictures

Tony began his first enterprise along with his older brother Vito in 1990. (Vito serves as the corporate’s advertising gatekeeper, overseeing smoothie collaborations.) They distributed private-label mineral water to high-end eating places on the Westside. The timing was good: Perrier, the one participant within the bottled water house on the time, had recalled all of its merchandise over a benzene contamination. Ultimately the enterprise grew to promoting bar provides like cherries and olives. Josephine quickly joined the brothers and have become their one-woman gross sales pressure.

“She went to an Italian restaurant sooner or later, and the man goes, ‘Can I purchase some cheese from you?’ ” Tony says.

“Parmigiano-Reggiano,” she notes. 

 “I’m going, ‘Take the order. We’ll determine it out,’ ” he continues. “That put us within the meals enterprise. Earlier than you already know it, we have been promoting $90 million a yr of meals to eating places, totally on the Westside.” In 2009, the Antocis have been made a proposal by Sysco, the $60 billion-a-year meals distribution big, to buy their firm, Superior Anhausner Meals. “It was some huge cash,” Tony says, declining to reveal the precise quantity. “It was sufficient cash that I by no means wanted to work once more. The youngsters by no means wanted to work once more. And I used to be identical to, ‘OK. I labored my ass off for 17 years. I’m going to retire.’ ” Six months into retirement, he discovered himself going out of his thoughts with boredom.

“I’d come house from college and ask him, ‘What do you do?’ ” recollects Alec, 12 on the time.

It was March 2009, amid the worldwide financial disaster. However the Antocis had no cash in shares, and, flush with money from the Sysco sale, Tony set about discovering a brand new firm to purchase — if for no different cause than to stave off the boredom. 

The leisure enterprise was by no means within the playing cards. “I knew nothing about movie and TV,” Tony says. “I don’t assume I’ve watched 20 motion pictures in my complete lifetime.” And whereas celebrities might now be synonymous with Erewhon, they’ve by no means proved alluring to Tony “as a result of I didn’t know anyone,” he says. “Other than Tom Hanks, as a result of rising up, folks would all the time say, ‘You look identical to Tom Hanks.’ ” (It’s true. He type of does.)

At some point, he ran right into a former competitor who had moved into pure meals and was raving about its potential. Then one other man he barely knew referred to as him out of the blue and proposed a brand new enterprise: “He goes, ‘Purchase a bus and go to underserved communities. Make it Complete Meals on a bus,’ ” Tony recollects. “I assumed to myself, ‘That is the second man telling me I ought to get into the pure meals enterprise. Possibly there’s one thing right here?’ ”

Tony began to pursue the bus thought. “I drove a bus round and thought it was fairly cool,” he says. “I all the time needed to drive a bus.” However he realized that stocking the buses would require a warehouse stuffed with well being meals provides. In different phrases, a grocery retailer. His affiliate introduced Tony to a bit market on Pico Boulevard. “It wasn’t proper. So I stated, ‘You wish to see an actual market? Let me present you an actual market.’ And I introduced him to Erewhon.” 

In fact, Tony had by no means stepped foot inside that Erewhon, which had occupied the identical musty house at 7660 Beverly Blvd. since 1991. “So we head over there, and I’m going, ‘This can be a actual market and these guys know what they’re doing,’ ” he says. “Little did I do know, they didn’t know what they have been doing.” That Erewhon, populated by naturalist oddballs, is nearly unrecognizable from what the shop is now. 

“The new bar appeared like jail meals,” Josephine recollects.

“It smelled,” provides Alec. “I walked in and was so mad. I used to be like, ‘I need Fruity Pebbles!’ They solely had granola and wholesome stuff.”

Undeterred, Tony made an impulse determination to buy the unique Erewhon, proper then and there. He knocked on the supervisor’s workplace door till he was granted an viewers with its then proprietor, Libby DeSilva, a hairdresser who’d inherited the operation from her husband, Tom DeSilva, who purchased the shop out of chapter in 1979. 

“She was operating the enterprise for eight years on a pipe dream,” Tony says. “To not say something detrimental about hairdressers, however a hairdresser doesn’t perceive the retail grocery enterprise.” Six months later — the deal closed April 1, 2011 — the Antocis owned Erewhon. After they took possession of it, it was averaging weekly gross sales of $180,000. “At this time, our retailer common is $900,000,” Tony says. “However don’t write that down.”

Though actors like Lily Collins far left and Andrew Garfield have become synonymous with Erewhon, patriarch Tony says he hasn’t watched 20 movies in my lifetime.

Although actors like Lily Collins (far left) and Andrew Garfield have turn into synonymous with Erewhon, patriarch Tony says he hasn’t “watched 20 motion pictures in my lifetime.”

Bauer-Griffin/GC Pictures; 4CRNS, WCP/BACKGRID

***

For higher or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic by accident produced the world’s first superstar smoothie. “Superstar” is perhaps a stretch — it was the brainchild of a preferred TikToker named Tinx. “I moved to L.A. in 2019 and located Erewhon to be a cheerful place,” says Tinx, who has amassed 1.5 million followers hooked on her humorous takes on standard tradition and courting recommendation. “I’d get a juice or among the wonderful sizzling bar meals, and I’d sit there and I’d people-watch.” As a result of it was deemed a vital service, Erewhon continued to function all through the pandemic, its shops turning into one of many few socially acceptable gathering spots. “Going to Erewhon as soon as per week was the largest deal with as a result of it was the one human interplay I used to be getting,” Tinx says. “I’ve a really emotional bond with this retailer.” In February 2021, Vito requested Tinx whether or not there was something they might do for her to thank her for all her TikTok content material, which he observed had been driving gross sales. “I stated, ‘I do know that is actually bizarre, however I’d like to have a secret menu merchandise [named after me].’ ” And thus the superstar smoothie was born.

Again then, the cups didn’t have the acquainted Erewhon emblem printed on them. (Look carefully and also you’ll discover a hidden leaf within the R.) However smoothie improvements quickly adopted. Influencer Marianna Hewitt, working with Jason Widener, who runs the corporate’s tonic bar program, devised a smoothie that might pop on social media. “I beloved their smoothies, however they aren’t all the time probably the most lovely issues,” Hewitt says. “I assumed, ‘Why don’t we make it not solely scrumptious and wholesome, however one thing actually shareable and exquisite?’ ” The consequence, Marianna’s Coconut Cloud Smoothie ($17), got here in a swirling array of blues — that’s spirulina — and blew up when it launched in March 2022. Not lengthy after, Bieber herself reached out to design a smoothie, which turned the largest vendor ever. Erewhon nonetheless sells 12,000 per week (that’s $864,000 a month in Hailey Bieber smoothie gross sales alone).

“Everybody desires it,” says Alec of the smoothie collaborations. “It’s like a verify mark on Instagram now. It verifies the particular person as a mega-influencer, in a manner.” The influencers get a $1 royalty per smoothie that they’re inspired to donate to charity. Erewhon throws one other $2 per smoothie to the trigger. The corporate additionally donates any unsold ready meals on the finish of every day to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. 

These costly smoothies, it seems, are higher advertising instruments than revenue earners: A lot of the value goes towards the expensive mix-ins and guide labor. (Anybody who’s noticed an Erewhon tonic bar at rush hour is aware of the way it can really feel like a smoothie sweatshop; staff are paid wherever from $18 to $30 an hour.) A commerce secret: The smoothies are made in particular industrial blenders that may combine six at a time. Every blender prices $2,000.

The following frontier — one which Erewhon to this point has navigated sparingly and efficiently — is in style and product collaborations. The newest, brokered by Studio Peripheria and overseen by Alec, paired Erewhon with Cactus Plant Flea Market, the secrecy-enshrouded streetwear label that focuses on major colours and Muppets-like visuals. That collaboration, which included a capsule assortment and a $22 rainbow-swirl smoothie in particular printed cups, was so standard, it crashed the corporate web site. In shops, they bought 20,000 smoothies in a single week. 

“There’s alternative ways to do that complete influencer factor,” says Alec. “We’re a advertising machine proper now, and other people and types know that. The highest of the highest — consider the highest 5 manufacturers on the earth — all of them wish to do one thing with us. I’m ready the place I’ve bought to essentially pull the precise levers.” The following lever: a partnership in December with a luxurious model. “We’d like folks to grasp that we’re not only a grocery retailer. It’s one thing you purchase into,” he says of the Erewhon model.

To his dad, nevertheless, the markets are the factor. Tony was extremely strategic in selecting their areas, zeroing in on L.A.’s most high-income areas, and he has expanded the corporate at a clip, opening six of the shops in simply the previous 4 years: Pacific Palisades, Silver Lake, Culver Metropolis, Studio Metropolis, Beverly Hills and now the Pasadena mom ship. 

Every retailer has its personal vibe, says Alec: “Beverly Hills is type of touristy, Venice is beachy, Palisades is households, Silver Lake extra edgy.” How edgy? A 2022 viral picture captured a dominatrix main her slave — in a leather-based canine masks and on all fours — by the shop by a leash. The couple was requested to go away.

Says artist and Erewhon fanatic Alex Israel It’s the quintessential L.A. experience and one whose celebrated smoothies vary in price, based on ingredients and celebrity endorsements.

Says artist (and Erewhon fanatic) Alex Israel: “It’s the quintessential L.A. expertise” — and one whose celebrated smoothies differ in value, based mostly on elements and superstar endorsements.

Photographed by Maggie Shannon

Tony shrugs off criticisms that the corporate caters solely to the prosperous to the exclusion of the 99 %. “It doesn’t hassle me as a result of it’s true,” he says. “We’re catering to the prosperous. However solely as a result of the uncooked elements value a lot extra that sadly it places sure demographics out of attain. However we shouldn’t be shamed for that. Why ought to somebody not be capable of eat organically as a result of it’s not for the plenty?”

However Erewhon turns nobody away, and you probably have $7 for a pizza slice — and even $18 to splurge on a smoothie — the approach to life is anybody’s for the taking, if for under a short while. Says Israel, “Erewhon’s significance within the tradition displays each a millennial and Gen Z shift in spending, from materials items towards expertise, and a shift in want, from designer garments towards designer our bodies.”

Possibly that’s why the income hold rising. Through the pandemic, Erewhon gross sales elevated 30 %, in line with Tony. They’ve elevated one other 30 since then. “That’s due to retailer development,” Tony says. “Our same-store gross sales are up 18 % year-over-year.” As for additional growth, his targets hold transferring: “After I had the one retailer, I saved saying my purpose is 5. And once I bought the 5, I stated, ‘My purpose’s 10.’ I’m now at 10. I imagine my purpose is 20, however each time I get to that quantity, I’m doubling it.” 

There was noise, a lot of it pushed by wishful pondering, about an upcoming New York location. It’s not taking place — at the very least not but. The corporate simply invested $30 million in a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art processing facility in downtown L.A. Referred to internally because the commissary, it’s the place all of the soups, juices, sandwiches and ready meals will probably be made contemporary every day. And the Antocis wish to maximize their funding.

Says Tony, “As a result of we’re constructing such a giant facility, we’re pondering perhaps Arizona or Las Vegas. This commissary kitchen is a large growth. And so I’ve to ensure that I’m pushing sufficient enterprise in there — or it’s not going to essentially pay for itself. A retailer in New York gained’t do something for this commissary.”

“Would you ever think about promoting?” I ask.

“Not as we speak. ‘By no means’ is a robust phrase. There’s an incredible quantity of worth on this enterprise. However can this man deal with it?” he asks, gesturing towards his eldest son. “Possibly he can. We’ll see. And he’s bought two different siblings — why him? Simply because he’s the oldest? Why not the center? Why not the youngest? It’s going to be a little bit of a tug-of-war. And so long as I’m round, I’m going to be driving from the again seat.”

“This actually is Succession,” I be aware.

“It’s exhausting love,” Tony says. “He’s bought to show it. And that’s not a simple factor.” 

You don’t really have to read the ingredients says Josephine Antoci. We do all that for you.

“You don’t actually need to learn the elements,” says Josephine Antoci. “We do all that for you.”

Photographed by Maggie Shannon

This story first appeared within the Oct. 11 problem of The Hollywood Reporter journal. Click on right here to subscribe.

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