In 1899, the Sanitarium Health Food Co. opened a shop in Maitland, New South Wales, selling goods produced in their factory in nearby Cooranbong. The company had its beginnings in Melbourne in 1898 but soon relocated to the site on the NSW central coast. Associated with the Seventh Day Adventist church, Sanitarium promoted vegetarian eating and the first health food store served lunches to the public. The company went on to operate many vegetarian cafés around Australia.
On Saturday 16 December 1899 the following article appeared in the Maitland Mercury:
THE SANITARIUM HEALTH FOOD CO.
The above company, which is connected with the Seventh Day Adventists, has recently started business in the shop next to Mrs Anthony’s, High Street, where a supply of health foods is stocked. These foods consist mainly granola, for porridge or puddings; granose, or whole wheat; caramel-cereal, a substitute for coffee; nut butter, a substitute for butter; bromose, a very good fattening food; and nuttose, a substitute for meat. These foods are all prepared at the Adventists’ factory at Cooranbong, where a large number of hands are employed, and there is so much of the common-sense argument in favour of the foods that they are taking on with the public. For the purpose of giving the public an opportunity of sampling these health foods, light luncheons are served at the shop at a nominal rate, from twopence to sixpence, according to the menu.
Previously Sanitarium health foods had been sold through agents but this first health food store marked the beginning of the company’s move into food service and retailing. In 1902 the first Sydney café opened, providing vegetarian meals. During six months of 1904, the Pitt St cafe served 8,000 customers. By 1939, this had increased to almost 100,000 customers over a six month period.
A menu from 1933 lists three soups (Barley & Vegetable, Cream of Olive and Marmite Broth) and four main courses (Vegetarian Veal Roast, Nutmeat Pies, Spanish Omelette, and Cold Nutmeat with Lettuce, Tomato, Beetroot and Cabbage Salads). Vegetables on the side were any three of potatoes, peas, swedes or haricot beans. There was also a choice of sweets. The three course menu could be had for 1/3d (a shilling and three pence, or around 13 cents). A light lunch menu was also offered.
Sanitarium’s first health food store was followed by cafés and stores throughout Australia and New Zealand, some of which continued to operate until the 1980s. In 2008 the concept was revived in Brisbane with the vegetarian café Kitchen by Sanitarium.