Chris Kysar remembered: Grocery remains committed to health and family after owner dies
Lisa Kysar of California Organics said the grocery store will continue to champion the health and wellness of Nevada City families after the death of her husband and business partner, Chris Kysar.
Lisa said the gratitude she has for her son, Zach, as well as her adopted family via the supermarket’s 20-some employees, has only grown since her husband died due to COVID-19 complications about two weeks ago.
Chris Kysar died at 63 on Aug. 23, with his sense of humor intact, Lisa said. The organic enthusiast even bantered with nurses in Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital’s intensive care unit.
“I think he’d like to be remembered for his wit,” Lisa Kysar said. “Even the nurses in the ICU would banter back and forth with him. He always had a story or some kind of joke.”
At least some of those stories and jokes were amassed over the 42 years the pair were in relationship, but it was the same good nature and story-telling ability that charmed Lisa when the pair first met at age 20.
“We met at a party where some friends were wanting to introduce me to this other guy who was just obnoxious,” Lisa Kysar said of the couple’s first interaction. “Chris saw I was bothered by the whole thing, and so he introduced himself and started talking to me.”
Lisa said she drove Chris Kysar home after a 3 a.m. breakfast — pigs in a blanket — at a Denny’s in the San Fernando Valley.
“This was before he was vegan or vegetarian,” Lisa said.
Lisa said Chris Kysar was working at a high-end body shop when she met him. Per the California Organics origin story, Chris Kysar left the company of Porsches and Ferraris for a job bagging groceries after sensing that his work environment negatively impacted his health.
“The pollution was so bad from the paint room, he just decided it was so bad he didn’t want to do that anymore,” Lisa said. “He got a job as a box boy at a store called Mrs. Gooch’s.”
Lisa said Chris Kysar was quickly promoted to head buyer for the Sherman Oaks-based natural food markets. She attributed her husband’s quick ascension to his passion for food and an inherent charisma which helped with personal and professional connections.
“He was very into food and he was very anti-pesticides,” Lisa said.
Mrs. Gooch’s was acquired by Whole Foods in 1993, Lisa said, a testament to not only how health conscious Chris Kysar was, but savvy.
According to a poster hung behind a California Organic’s register, Chris Kysar observed the natural food industry’s customer base shift from hippies to more mainstream shoppers over the last 32 years. The store owner could remember a time when it was dominated by “a lot of guys without any shoes.”
Lisa said California Organics is one of at least three groceries in the immediate area that promote responsible nutrition, but attributes customer loyalty to the store’s family-friendly operations.
“We’re family-oriented,” Lisa Kysar said. “During COVID, because childcare is so expensive, you will see children at the store.”
Lisa said she and Chris saw how limited the options were for parents trying to provide financially — and spatially — for their children over the course of the pandemic. She sees the staff’s family as her own, and said Chris Kysar made a point to let children in distance learning use the store’s computers to study over the last year.
“Our employees can bring their children to work. That has helped them due to kids being out of school during COVID,“ Lisa explained. “They would use computers upstairs to work online.”
Offering a personal solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem was always Chris Kysar’s way, Lisa said.
“He could out-create every problem I’ve seen,” Lisa said. “He was always able to find a solution, because he always thought outside of the box.”
Thinking creatively is necessary, Lisa said, when one has to rebuild after losing everything.
The Kysars came to Nevada City after losing their Sonoma-based natural food store to a fire. After a fruitless battle against their insurance company, Lisa said she and Chris were strapped for cash and out of ideas.
“We were in lawsuits, we lost everything — the house — and then someone said, ‘There’s a store in Nevada City, you might really like it up here,’” Lisa said.
A member of their Sonoma community stepped forward and asked for a number that represented how much she and Chris needed to get back on their feet and return to their health-based mission.
“He said, ‘When you have the opportunity, pay it forward,’” Lisa said.
With this help and a newfound sense of hope, the Kysars bought California Organics in 2002 — previously Ananda-owned Earth Song — 19 years ago.
Chris Kysar took the man’s message to heart, Lisa said, and took great pains to get to know his customers and staff personally and help out where he could.
“He was really very generous,” Lisa said. “If someone needed something and they didn’t have the money for it, he told them to come in. He was always available with his phone number and email and told folks to call him directly.”
Lisa said there were more benefits to the Kysars’ move to Nevada County than just the opportunity to sell organic to health conscious people.
“It was the best thing for a our son to come to Nevada City and go to school in Nevada City,” Lisa said. “He has incredible opportunities and friends that are lifelong.”
Zach Kysar was starting first grade when his family made the move. He said had it not been for his father’s commitment to his education in the form of rides to an AP Computer Science Class at the Roseville campus of Sierra College, he would be on a different career path. Now, the 26 year old contracts with big tech firms in the Bay Area.
“I think a big part of his mission was around making sure that everyone has a livelihood and making sure everyone is cared for,” Zach Kysar said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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