Bountiful • Health food stores and bakeries producing fresh whole wheat can commonly be seen in most towns these days. The majority of big supermarkets feature sections filled with health foods and vitamins and operate in-house bakeries.
But when Clinton Miller opened a store specializing in those products in Bountiful in 1952, it must have seemed unusual.
"It was really exotic and the research was so much different," said Jim Coltrin, who has owned Gregory's Wheat Shop for the past 35 years. "In those days, people didn't take many vitamins. The potencies were small. It was to a degree a hippy fringe movement."
Miller eventually sold the store to his brother-in-law, Keith Gregory. Coltrin married Gregory's oldest daughter Linda and took over the business.
Though I lost track of Jim in recent years, I knew him as the son of Bill Coltrin, a legendary Tribune sports writer who passed away on Sept. 20, 1971, while covering a BYU-Texas football game at the Cotton Bowl. I worked with Bill, a colorful character who seemed more comfortable covering a 1A high school basketball tournament than a major sporting event.
Jim graduated from Brigham Young University in 1971, worked for a while in Washington, D.C., and eventually returned to Salt Lake City where he sold sporting goods for the old Stevens-Brown store, a job that gave him a chance to visit many of the high schools around Utah that his father loved.
When his father-in-law asked him to take over the family business, Coltrin found a home.
Gregory's Wheat Shop offers an interesting mix of products. It is a retail health food store and sells appliances such as home grain mills, dehydraters and juicers. Employees and Jim's wife Linda teach classes on such topics as pressure cooking, how to use your storage, breadmaking and pizza making at a small kitchen inside the store.
In addition, the company bakes about 7,000 to 8,000 loaves of bread a day, most of which is purchased by grocery stores stretching from Boise to Las Vegas, including many along the Wasatch Front. Smells from the freshly baked bread waft through the store, making it a pleasant place to visit.
"People want something that is locally made," said Coltrin, sitting in an office that is decorated with sports memorabilia and family photos. "A large percentage of the breads on the shelves are brought in frozen. People like the idea of doing business with hometown people because they know it's fresh."
Gregory's is also known for its different brands of granola, a product it has made for 40 years.
"Mr. Gregory saw granola at a health food convention," explained Coltrin. "Clinton Miller's family were part of the Miller Honey Company. He figured out a way to make it. We bake it on cookie sheets and stir four times an hour. It's not automated at all and quite labor-intensive. But people seem to like it."
In a time when the U.S. economy has been bad, Gregory's business has been growing. Retail sales of doubled in the past five years. Coltrin thinks part of the appeal of Gregory's is that there remains a niche for small, independent businesses.
"We have to get by on providing real good service," he said. "We are knowledgeable when people come in and ask 'Which vitamin C should I take?' We have good smells and good loyal customers…You can get by with service and by treating people the way you want to be treated. That sounds trite, but that's just the way we do it, and I think it works."
Something must be working. Gregory's Wheat Shop seems to be thriving as an independent providing fresh bread, tasty granola, classes and, most important, service in a world where that sometimes seems forgotten.