Every business has as story, especially a business that has seen two generations at the helm. Especially a business that went from barely making payroll to having five thriving locations. Here’s the story of Rainbow Blossom and how love, persistence, vunerability and a sense of community has kept this business alive.
Rob and Pumpkin Auerbach moved back home to Louisville in 1977 after living in San Francisco and Boulder, and they were accustomed to a thriving natural foods scene. They realized there was a huge void of this type of product here and opened Rainbow Blossom that year, which was a combination restaurant and grocery store.
At the time, they were the only natural foods store around and are known as “Louisville’s Original Healthy Market.” The first store was in St. Matthews off Breckinridge Lane. Rob Auerbach believed they opened ten years too soon, mainly because their first customers were people coming in to buy gag gifts for their friends. People were not ready for this type of healthy eating and living.
The tide turned for them with one simple yes, though. Yes, not being an affirmation, but the name of a band that was coming in to play at the Louisville Gardens. The concert promoter was looking for a vegetarian caterer for the band. There were not a lot of options back then in Louisville and the promoter offered the job to Rainbow Blossom. They catered the meal to rave reviews. It was through that positive review that word of the Auerbach’s operation spread. They cooked for many rock bands who passed through town, such as Elvis Costello and a little band called The Rolling Stones.
The catering was a side gig that kept their market afloat during those lean, first years. As awareness of health and healthy eating became more prevalent, they moved locations in St. Matthews. Their family also grew during this time with the birth of their two daughters, Star and Summer. The girls were raised at Rainbow Blossom, eating many a meal there and coming there after school each day. Summer says that Rainbow Blossom was her daycare.
Summer developed a love for the market. From the customers to the operations, she loved every part of the business — it was her center. Star and Summer both went off to college, and though Star was not interested in the grocery business, Summer was. But, she couldn’t imagine her father ever retiring from the business and pursued other interests in college. She traveled extensively and was an International Studies major.
Everything changed in 2004 when Wild Oats and Whole Foods opened. Wild Oats and Whole Foods really were competing with each other, but the problem was that all of the fallout directly affected Rainbow Blossom — their sales rapidly began declining. They had no control over the market and their business suffered.
Around this same time, Summer’s father also discovered he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Summer knew he was sick, but he downplayed the severity of his illness. When she saw him at her college graduation in the spring and he seemed fine to her. She had a job lined up with AmeriCorps and was going to start in October. Her plan was to work at Rainbow Blossom from May to October of that year, then leave and go pursue her life.
Her grandfather sat her down after she returned home and had a very frank discussion with the then 22-year old Summer. He told her that her father was dying, her grandmother was dying and that their business was failing. She was not going to be able to go to work for Americorps in October. They desperately needed her to stay home and help them. Summer agreed to stay six months to help them out and then had every intention of leaving to get on with the rest of her life.
Her father’s prognosis was grave, and he left for Omaha to receive a stem cell transplant where he was quarantined for eight weeks. In that time, Summer learned how to buy, how to budget and how to run three grocery stores herself. Six months passed quickly, yet she struggled to get ahead. She says in hindsight that she did not know the breadth and the scale of what she agreed to. It was probably better that way.
The businesses was not doing well. They were barely able to make payroll. Her father was sick. Summer describes those days as complete negativity. Customers would walk in and either ask how business was or how her father was, both of which were negative answers. She decided to change the message into positivity and decided also to carve out her own niche in the market.
She wanted to exercise her creativity and recreate the energy. She began planning events centered on holistic and alternative healing and medicines. She brought in doctors to speak and started yoga classes.
Both the business and her father recovered.
In 2005, she opened up a fourth location in New Albany, contrary to every piece of business advice she had received. New Albany turned out to be her “gold star” store and still is. In 2009, they opened up the Bardstown Road location. Rob, while still the owner, handed over the reigns to Summer and she is the current chief operating officer.
So what gives Rainbow Blossom such staying power? You can buy other groceries other places, and Summer knows that. But it is the attention to detail and the talented staff that have created such loyal clientele. Foods are hand-picked for the store, with a focus on local farmers and suppliers. There is an entire section of supplements, beauty and health products and gifts. All products in the store have been carefully curated and must meet Rainbow Blossom’s high quality standards.
The Auerbachs live out in Oldham County on a farm, where they truly practice what they preach with organic farming and sustainability.
Most employees here have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the market or of a certain section. Summer claims that they usually hire people that are their customers, as their level of interest is higher than the normal applicant.
Staff picks are all over the store, including many from Summer.
They host farmers markets on Sundays with fresh produce and locally-raised meats.
For Summer, Rainbow Blossom is her community center, her happy place, where everyone she knows and loves are. With an energy like that, it is no wonder that Rainbow Blossom has been such a large part of our community for this many years.
It’s clear: she was born to do this and it shows.
Rainbow Blossom has five locations: St. Matthews, Springhurst, Middletown, Bardstown Rd. and New Albany. Visit their website for more information here: www.rainbowblossom.com.