For 25 years, Sassafras Health Foods has been catering to White Bear Lake’s vitamin and holistic needs, and for the last eight years, it’s been in the hands of Paula Comstock.
Before Sassafras, Comstock was a professional photographer. When everything was going to digital, she decided to switch careers because “I didn’t care to go digital with it,” she says. She hopped around, trying to figure out what she wanted to do next, and while working at a local big-box home improvement store in the garden section, she wasn’t feeling well.
“I decided to go to the doctor and they did some blood work, and they said, ‘Well it looks like your white blood cell count is dangerously low,’ ” she says. So they did a bone marrow biopsy looking for cancer, lupus, and other causes, but couldn’t find anything definitive. The doctor told her to come back every six months for further testing. “Well, I’m not going to have another bone marrow biopsy, believe me,” she says.
So she looked for alternative ways to raise her white blood cell count and stumbled on alternative medicine. “I just started researching it because it was so fascinating,” Comstock says. She had been looking for a new career anyway, so she took some classes on the subject “and hopped on board.”
She was working at a natural foods store after finishing her schooling at Global College of Natural Medicine when Sassafras went on the market in 2008, and she snapped it up. She bought it from Caroline Kayden, who had purchased it from a couple from Georgia—the original owners—who named it Sassafras. “I bought it right at the height of the recession, but I knew where this industry was going so I didn’t have a problem with that,” she says.
Although Sassafras offers more than 3,500 products, there are a couple of things that nearly everyone walks through the door looking for. One of them is probiotics, for intestinal health. “Gut health is the No. 1 [concern],” she says. “If you have a healthy gut, you really won’t have any other health problems.”
Others are essential oils and basic vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin B. Many of the vitamins at Sassafras are different from the ones at your corner drug store because Comstock is trying to focus on vitamins made from food—not synthetically created in a lab. “I mean, where else do you get your vitamins but food? So why are you taking it synthetically?” she says. The difference is in how your body reacts to the vitamin. “Your body just thinks it’s eating a lot of that food without having to digest all the food to get the product it’s looking for.”
The other big focus is education. “We give away a lot of free books,” Comstock says. “We try to educate people.”
This, in turn, creates loyal customers like Kim Goble. “Paula has been wonderful to me and my family,” she says. “She will bend over backwards to meet our needs—we just really appreciate her store and who she is.”
Walk through the door with a question, and Comstock will answer it for you. (Her mother and daughter also work at the shop.) And if you’re looking for dinner, they’ve got you covered too, with items like apple cider vinegar and grass-fed beef, plus healthy fats, like butter made in Ireland.
“People need to be proactive on their health and look for all the options,” Comstock says. “So we’re here for them to train, teach, answer questions and offer them the best possible supplements out there.”
Sassafras Health Foods
2186 Third St.
White Bear Lake