Roy's Natural Market: So Long to the Man with Wheat Grass Miracles

Used to get a lot of sore throats, from, well, let's just call it "cigarette" smoking. That was back in the '80s when I, well, let's just say smoked. Invariably, the tickle in my throat would progress to soreness, which would progress to a head cold, which would progress to a chest cold, which wouldn't progress but would stay stuck in my lungs for weeks at a time. To avoid being so progressive, at first tickle, I would visit Roy's Nutrition Center in Preston Royal shopping center, the first health food store I'd ever known, which after 42 years in business is closing its doors on August 15 .

It was there that I would get a shot of wheat grass, chasing down its terrible fresh-mowed lawn taste with a small glass of freshly juiced organic carrots. Not that I knew what organic meant; just thought it had to be better, because it was more expensive.

I have invoked this folk remedy many times over the last 30 years, and I bet it stopped my cold dead in its tracks oh, 75 percent of the time. The woman who squeezed me back to health, Debbie Stevenson, has worked at Roy's for the last 16 years, but sadly not after Roy Beard, 80, officially retires and moves to Nebraska to live with his daughter and her family.

"I've gone through depression and every emotion imaginable," Stevenson told me as she made me a commemorative carrot juice today. "But I am just happy for Roy now that he will be with his family."

On occasion, I would get my wheat grass from some other juice bar, straying from Roy's, mostly because the place was closed on Saturdays. Turns out for good reason: He's a 7th Day Adventist, a religion that focuses on healthy eating, which is what drew him into the nutrition biz in the first place. Roy's was the real deal, a mom-and-pop shop for vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, organic fruits, vegetables and the latest health craze brought here by Beard from other parts of the health-food world. Beard claims several nutritional firsts for Dallas -- first to introduce Dallas to the smoothie, Dannon yogurt, Dr. Atkins diet, alfalfa sprouts, fiber noodles and ear candles (whatever that is), to name a few. His shop's window currently has pitches for a fat-loss patch, a reflexologist and something guaranteed to give you long eyelashes in 21 days. "I always kept my antennae out," he told me.

His place always smelled like wheat germ -- or what I supposed wheat germ smelled like. When attempting to diet, or worse, "eat healthy," I would go there for lunch and order the same thing every time: a protein plate -- scoop of egg salad, scoop of chicken salad, scoop of tuna salad -- placed over a bed of lettuce and topped with yogurt dressing. Oh, and that's another thing, "No one else was doing frozen yogurt in the '70s," he said, though he didn't capitalize on it or envision "fro-yo's" current Pinkberry, Yogilicious, I Heart Yogurt renaissance.

Although some claim Roy's was the first health food store in Dallas, Roy seems averse to that label, thinking of himself rather as an early settler who sank his ginger roots into the local soil beneath the Majestic Theater marquis in 1968, long before Whole Foods was even an Austin hippie's dream.

Not that he wasn't fully aware of Whole Foods before they came into his territory in the mid-'80s: "They took 20 percent of my business when they came to town," he recalled, "though we have learned to coexist."

From downtown, he moved locations close to SMU, and finally landed in Preston Royal in 1980. But his was always a niche market, a specialty store, where loyal customers bonded with him and sought out his advice. Though he did change the name of the store to Roy's Natural Market more than a decade ago (the old name, however, is still on the storefront) to seem more trendy, Whole Foods is what made nutrition and organic foods hip, upscale. "Health food has gone mainstream," he said, "Why even Walmart is selling organics and natural foods now."

But with the death of his wife (she ran the business with him) and the termination of his lease, he figured "it has been a good run" and was time to close up shop. His customers have spent the last week saying their goodbyes and paying their respects to him and the store, which is another reason I went to Roy's today: One last protein plate. One last carrot juice. One last blast of wheat grass? No to the wheat grass. I quit smoking.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald

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