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Succession, With Smoothies: Inside the Erewhon Dynasty

With Hailey Bieber smoothies and collabs with streetwear labels, the Antoci family transformed a gloomy L.A. health food store into the world’s trendiest and most extravagant market. Will they unseat Whole Foods?

Maybe it was in 2014, when its second location opened in 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 about the summer of 2022, when TikTok caught on to its Hailey Bieber smoothies ($18 and fortified with things like “vital proteins vanilla collagen” and “hyaluronic acid”), unleashing an avalanche of #Erewhon-tagged content to the tune of 450 million views?

It’s up for debate what the true tipping-point moment was that transformed Erewhon from just another L.A. health food market into a money-minting retail phenomenon. But there can be no arguing that the wildly popular chain with the strange name — pronounced “air Juan,” an anagram of “nowhere” — is doing something right. 

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At its 10th and newest location, a flagship store in Pasadena that opened Sept. 13, sales have been so robust that 40 employees needed to be added to the 140 already hired. Erewhon’s stores — all of them located in affluent neighborhoods within Los Angeles County — are averaging weekly sales of $1,800 per square foot, bringing in about $1 million in sales per store each week. By comparison, a well-trafficked Whole Foods — which many feel has seen a dip in quality and cachet since Amazon acquired it in 2017 — earns about the same in a much larger retail space.

For those living outside L.A. — or without access to the internet — what is Erewhon, exactly? For starters, it’s a sleek, inviting space (the stores are designed by Belgian architect Humberto Nobrega) for stocking up on trendy supplements like sea moss and lion’s mane mushroom; cult hot bar offerings (the organic buffalo cauliflower is a best-seller at $19 a pound); smoothies ($12 to $22, based on ingredients and celebrity endorsements); pristine, non-genetically modified produce and healthy snack foods with words like “heavenly,” “good” and “simple” in their names.

But it also has become Hollywood’s trendiest accessible gathering spot, where, free of velvet ropes and bouncers, the fit and famous gather to sip, munch and flirt right alongside the tourists — groupies, really — who arrive directly from LAX to pose for selfies with smoothies in hand. 

“It’s the quintessential L.A. experience once provided by fashion boutique Fred Segal,” explains L.A. artist Alex Israel, an Erewhon zealot who visits the store every single day. “In the ’90s, teenagers like me used to save up our money to buy anything we could at Fred Segal. We’d just want to be there: studying the brands, the music and the other shoppers’ outfits, cars and attitudes. And now Erewhon is on the top of that list, giving the dayglow L.A. fantasy to all who visit, every day of the week.” (Israel teases a “special project” 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.
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. Photographed by Maggie Shannon

The Hollywood A-list can’t seem to get enough of Erewhon: Andrew Garfield, Dakota Johnson, Miley Cyrus, A$AP Rocky, Jake Gyllenhaal and Lily-Rose Depp have all been spotted there. And they only continue to flock: In the year since Bieber’s smoothie went viral, hundreds of celebrities and influencers — of wildly varying celebrity and influence — have tried to get their names on their own tonic bar concoctions. Only a handful have succeeded. You’re either a Bella Hadid, or you ain’t.

It goes on: Erewhon is online retail. It’s streetwear drops. It’s Coachella activations. Some fanatics, like Israel, insist it’s a way of life. It’s also a viral marketing juggernaut yet manages to be so with virtually no in-house marketing team and zero advertising budget. 

But just who is behind this health and wellness monster? That was the question I posed to myself as I pensively munched on a slice of organic pepperoni pizza ($7, one of Erewhon’s more affordable menu items) at the Silver Lake outpost, which opened amid the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020. 

The answer surprised me. It was not, in fact, the brainchild of some bone broth-sipping, immortality-obsessed Doctor Frankenstein. Nor was it cynically birthed in a corporate boardroom after several rounds of Goop-funded focus-group testing.

It came from the Antocis — just a sweet, all-American, extremely rich family from Brentwood. But don’t let the wholesome exterior fool you. The Erewhon empire was not built by luck or by accident, and the Antocis, canny entrepreneurs that they are, have in the span of a decade joined the ranks of the world’s most influential wellness tycoons. They are the Murdochs of macrobiotics — replete with two sons and a daughter eager to join the family business (in fact, one already has). And wherever they take Erewhon next, you can be sure the world will be watching.


“The first thing that people say about Erewhon is that it’s really expensive and full of celebrities,” says Josephine Antoci, the publicity-shy half of the married couple that envisioned Erewhon. “But it’s more than that. We didn’t build our business by being the most expensive or catering to celebrities. It grew very organically, which is nice.” Her son Alec Antoci, who oversees Erewhon’s fashion collaborations, interjects, “No pun intended.”

Alec Antoci
Alec Antoci Photographed by Maggie Shannon

The Antocis — dad Tony, 55, mom Josephine, 56, eldest child, Alec, 25, and their youngest, 21-year-old Maddy, enrolled in a real estate program at USC (a middle child, Austin, 23, isn’t fond of the spotlight) — are seated in the garden terrace outside the Pasadena location. The space is designed to be welcoming — with misters, heaters and a cedar trellis that moves according to sunlight — and is packed with shoppers, seemingly overjoyed to have somewhere to hang that isn’t a Starbucks. 

It’s a Thursday, and the lunch rush is gathering steam. Inside the store, a pristine temple to healthy living — even the bathrooms are beautiful — a line 20-deep has already formed at the smoothie bar. A tourist couple in their 50s snap selfies in an aisle lined with bags of Irish moss and cacao powder. A girl, about 12, tugs at her mother’s sleeve: “Look, Mom: Hailey Bieber!” I spin around: It’s not actually Hailey Bieber, but rather Bieber’s name on the tonic bar menu, which prominently features her Strawberry Glaze Smoothie.

All this impressiveness descended from extremely humble beginnings. Erewhon was founded in 1966 in a tiny 10-by-14-foot basement in Boston by Aveline and Michio Kushi, pioneers of the modern health food movement, who then opened their first West Coast store on Beverly Boulevard in 1969. But this Erewhon — the one famous the world over — actually began in 1986 in a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills called Chang’s Kitchen. 

That’s where Tony, then 17, and Josephine, 18, met — Josephine helping the kitchen staff, Tony taking phone orders for delivery. Josephine had just emigrated from Taiwan and was living with relatives while enrolled at Santa Monica College. Tony, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, grew up the middle of three boys in Pasadena. “My grandfather and his four brothers landed here in the 1950s,” he says. “They operated a liquor store called Vito’s Liquor Store on Valley Boulevard for many years, which my dad ended up then buying from his father.” His father parlayed that into other successful businesses, importing everything from Maine lobsters to German car parts. But he died when Tony was just 15. “He left us at such a young age,” Tony says. “After that, it was my mom who encouraged us to work hard.” At 21, Tony lost his mother, too. “That’s what I lived with every day,” he says. “It’s a hard time.”

At that point, Josephine had been in his life for three years. They married in 1993. Before her death, Tony’s mother taught Josephine how to cook all the Italian dishes her son loved. Josephine was a natural. “My mother is the best cook in the world,” says Alec. “I’ll drop anything and head home if she says she’s making dinner.” (The three Antoci children still live at home. “It’s a hard place to leave,” says Maddy.) Josephine manages the entire food program at Erewhon, creating and overseeing all the hot bar dishes and assessing every product desperately trying to make it onto store shelves. “You don’t really have to read the ingredients,” she says. “We do all that for you.” Of course, it also has to taste good. All that at-home market testing has taken its toll. “I just lost 40 pounds,” says Alec, who credits intermittent fasting. “I had gotten up to 200 pounds and was starting to look thick.”

The Sept. 13 opening of Erewhon’s Pasadena store
The Sept. 13 opening of Erewhon’s Pasadena store Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News/Getty Images

Tony started his first business with his older brother Vito in 1990. (Vito serves as the company’s marketing gatekeeper, overseeing smoothie collaborations.) They distributed private-label mineral water to high-end restaurants on the Westside. The timing was good: Perrier, the only player in the bottled water space at the time, had recalled all of its products over a benzene contamination. Eventually the business grew to selling bar supplies like cherries and olives. Josephine soon joined the brothers and became their one-woman sales force.

“She went to an Italian restaurant one day, and the guy goes, ‘Can I buy some cheese from you?’ ” Tony says.

“Parmigiano-Reggiano,” she notes. 

 “I go, ‘Take the order. We’ll figure it out,’ ” he continues. “That put us in the food business. Before you know it, we were selling $90 million a year of food to restaurants, primarily on the Westside.” In 2009, the Antocis were made an offer by Sysco, the $60 billion-a-year food distribution giant, to purchase their company, Superior Anhausner Foods. “It was a lot of money,” Tony says, declining to disclose the exact amount. “It was enough money that I never needed to work again. The kids never needed to work again. And I was just like, ‘OK. I worked my ass off for 17 years. I’m going to retire.’ ” Six months into retirement, he found himself going out of his mind with boredom.

“I’d come home from school and ask him, ‘What do you do?’ ” recalls Alec, 12 at the time.

It was March 2009, amid the global economic crisis. But the Antocis had no money in stocks, and, flush with cash from the Sysco sale, Tony set about finding a new company to buy — if for no other reason than to stave off the boredom. 

The entertainment business was never in the cards. “I knew nothing about film and TV,” Tony says. “I don’t think I’ve watched 20 movies in my whole lifetime.” And while celebrities may now be synonymous with Erewhon, they’ve never proved alluring to Tony “because I didn’t know anybody,” he says. “Apart from Tom Hanks, because growing up, people would always say, ‘You look just like Tom Hanks.’ ” (It’s true. He kind of does.)

One day, he ran into a former competitor who had moved into natural foods and was raving about its potential. Then another guy he barely knew called him out of the blue and proposed a new venture: “He goes, ‘Buy a bus and go to underserved communities. Make it Whole Foods on a bus,’ ” Tony recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the second guy telling me I should get into the natural foods business. Maybe there’s something here?’ ”

Tony started to pursue the bus idea. “I drove a bus around and thought it was pretty cool,” he says. “I always wanted to drive a bus.” But he realized that stocking the buses would require a warehouse filled with health food supplies. In other words, a grocery store. His associate brought Tony to a little market on Pico Boulevard. “It wasn’t right. So I said, ‘You want to see a real market? Let me show you a real market.’ And I brought him to Erewhon.” 

In truth, Tony had never stepped foot inside that Erewhon, which had occupied the same musty space at 7660 Beverly Blvd. since 1991. “So we head over there, and I go, ‘This is a real market and these guys know what they’re doing,’ ” he says. “Little did I know, they didn’t know what they were doing.” That Erewhon, populated by naturalist oddballs, is virtually unrecognizable from what the store is now. 

“The hot bar looked like jail food,” Josephine recalls.

“It smelled,” adds Alec. “I walked in and was so mad. I was like, ‘I want Fruity Pebbles!’ They only had granola and healthy stuff.”

Undeterred, Tony made an impulse decision to purchase the original Erewhon, right then and there. He knocked on the manager’s office door until he was granted an audience with its then owner, Libby DeSilva, a hairdresser who’d inherited the operation from her husband, Tom DeSilva, who bought the store out of bankruptcy in 1979. 

“She was running the business for eight years on a pipe dream,” Tony says. “Not to say anything negative about hairdressers, but a hairdresser does not understand the retail grocery business.” Six months later — the deal closed April 1, 2011 — the Antocis owned Erewhon. When they took ownership of it, it was averaging weekly sales of $180,000. “Today, our store average is $900,000,” Tony says. “But 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.
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.” Bauer-Griffin/GC Images; 4CRNS, WCP/BACKGRID


For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic accidentally produced the world’s first celebrity smoothie. “Celebrity” might be a stretch — it was the brainchild of a popular TikToker named Tinx. “I moved to L.A. in 2019 and found Erewhon to be a happy place,” says Tinx, who has amassed 1.5 million followers addicted to her funny takes on popular culture and dating advice. “I would get a juice or some of the amazing hot bar food, and I would sit there and I would people-watch.” Because it was deemed an essential service, Erewhon continued to operate throughout the pandemic, its stores becoming one of the few socially acceptable gathering spots. “Going to Erewhon once a week was the biggest treat because it was the only human interaction I was getting,” Tinx says. “I have a very emotional bond with this store.” In February 2021, Vito asked Tinx whether there was anything they could do for her to thank her for all her TikTok content, which he noticed had been driving sales. “I said, ‘I know this is really weird, but I would love to have a secret menu item [named after me].’ ” And thus the celebrity smoothie was born.

Back then, the cups didn’t have the familiar Erewhon logo printed on them. (Look closely and you’ll notice a hidden leaf in the R.) But smoothie innovations soon followed. Influencer Marianna Hewitt, working with Jason Widener, who runs the company’s tonic bar program, devised a smoothie that would pop on social media. “I loved their smoothies, but they aren’t always the most beautiful things,” Hewitt says. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we make it not only delicious and healthy, but something really shareable and beautiful?’ ” The result, Marianna’s Coconut Cloud Smoothie ($17), came in a swirling array of blues — that’s spirulina — and blew up when it launched in March 2022. Not long after, Bieber herself reached out to design a smoothie, which became the biggest seller ever. Erewhon still sells 12,000 a week (that’s $864,000 a month in Hailey Bieber smoothie sales alone).

“Everyone wants it,” says Alec of the smoothie collaborations. “It’s like a check mark on Instagram now. It verifies the person as a mega-influencer, in a way.” The influencers get a $1 royalty per smoothie that they are encouraged to donate to charity. Erewhon throws another $2 per smoothie to the cause. The company also donates any unsold prepared foods at the end of each day to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. 

Those expensive smoothies, it turns out, are better marketing tools than profit earners: Most of the cost goes toward the pricey mix-ins and manual labor. (Anyone who’s observed an Erewhon tonic bar at rush hour knows how it can feel like a smoothie sweatshop; employees are paid anywhere from $18 to $30 an hour.) A trade secret: The smoothies are made in special industrial blenders that can mix six at a time. Each blender costs $2,000.

The next frontier — one that Erewhon so far has navigated sparingly and successfully — is in fashion and product collaborations. The latest, brokered by Studio Peripheria and overseen by Alec, paired Erewhon with Cactus Plant Flea Market, the secrecy-enshrouded streetwear label that specializes in primary colors and Muppets-like visuals. That collaboration, which included a capsule collection and a $22 rainbow-swirl smoothie in special printed cups, was so popular, it crashed the company website. In stores, they sold 20,000 smoothies in one week. 

“There’s different ways to do this whole influencer thing,” says Alec. “We’re a marketing machine right now, and people and brands know that. The top of the top — think of the top five brands in the world — they all want to do something with us. I’m in a position where I’ve got to really pull the right levers.” The next lever: a partnership in December with a luxury brand. “We need people to understand that we’re not just a grocery store. It’s something you buy into,” he says of the Erewhon brand.

To his dad, however, the markets are the thing. Tony was highly strategic in choosing their locations, zeroing in on L.A.’s most high-income areas, and he has expanded the company at a clip, opening six of the stores in just the past four years: Pacific Palisades, Silver Lake, Culver City, Studio City, Beverly Hills and now the Pasadena mother ship. 

Each store has its own vibe, says Alec: “Beverly Hills is kind of touristy, Venice is beachy, Palisades is families, Silver Lake more edgy.” How edgy? A 2022 viral photo captured a dominatrix leading her slave — in a leather dog mask and on all fours — through the store by a leash. The couple was asked to leave.

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. experience” — and one whose celebrated smoothies vary in price, based on ingredients and celebrity endorsements. Photographed by Maggie Shannon

Tony shrugs off criticisms that the company caters only to the affluent to the exclusion of the 99 percent. “It doesn’t bother me because it is true,” he says. “We are catering to the affluent. But only because the raw ingredients cost so much more that unfortunately it puts certain demographics out of reach. But we shouldn’t be shamed for that. Why should someone not be able to eat organically because it’s not for the masses?”

But Erewhon turns no one away, and if you have $7 for a pizza slice — or even $18 to splurge on a smoothie — the lifestyle is anyone’s for the taking, if for only a little while. Says Israel, “Erewhon’s significance in the culture reflects both a millennial and Gen Z shift in spending, from material goods toward experience, and a shift in desire, from designer clothes toward designer bodies.”

Maybe that’s why the profits keep rising. During the pandemic, Erewhon sales increased 30 percent, according to Tony. They’ve increased another 30 since then. “That’s because of store growth,” Tony says. “Our same-store sales are up 18 percent year-over-year.” As for further expansion, his targets keep moving: “When I had the one store, I kept saying my goal is five. And when I got the five, I said, ‘My goal’s 10.’ I’m now at 10. I believe my goal is 20, but every time I get to that number, I’m doubling it.” 

There has been noise, much of it driven by wishful thinking, about an upcoming New York location. It’s not happening — at least not yet. The company just invested $30 million in a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art processing facility in downtown L.A. Referred to internally as the commissary, it’s where all the soups, juices, sandwiches and prepared foods will be made fresh each day. And the Antocis want to maximize their investment.

Says Tony, “Because we’re building such a big facility, we’re thinking maybe Arizona or Las Vegas. This commissary kitchen is a huge development. And so I have to make sure that I’m pushing enough business in there — or it’s not going to really pay for itself. A store in New York won’t do anything for this commissary.”

“Would you ever consider selling?” I ask.

“Not today. ‘Never’ is a strong word. There’s a tremendous amount of value in this business. But can this guy handle it?” he asks, gesturing toward his eldest son. “Maybe he can. We’ll see. And he’s got two other siblings — why him? Just because he’s the oldest? Why not the middle? Why not the youngest? It’s going to be a bit of a tug-of-war. And as long as I’m around, I’m going to be driving from the back seat.”

“This really is Succession,” I note.

“It’s hard love,” Tony says. “He’s got to prove it. And that’s not an easy thing.” 

You don’t really have to read the ingredients says Josephine Antoci. We do all that for you.
“You don’t really have to read the ingredients,” says Josephine Antoci. “We do all that for you.” Photographed by Maggie Shannon

This story first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.