One of the original investors who created New Seasons Market disputes Eileen Brady's claims that she was a "founding co-owner" of the company and played a meaningful role in creating the popular grocery chain.
Brady's claims have been the cornerstone of her campaign for mayor: that as a co-founder of New Seasons, a store that defines Portland, she's proven she deserves a chance to lead the city.
Chuck Eggert, who with partner Stan Amy provided 89 percent of New Seasons' start-up money, tells WW that Brady had nothing to do with coming up with the idea for the company. (Records show Brady's husband, Brian Rohter, the company's first president, put up 11 percent.)
Eggert also confirmed what WW has already reported: Brady never held a management position at New Seasons, never worked for the company, nor played any substantive role in its operations.
"There were three original board members and owners—myself, Stan Amy and Brian Rohter," Eggert says. "Eileen was married to a board member who was a founder."
The website of New Seasons' current owner, Endeavour Capital, says the "company was founded in 1999 by three pioneers in the natural foods industry."
Eggert, 63, is founder and CEO of Pacific Natural Foods, a Tualatin-based company that since its inception in 1987 has grown into one of the nation's largest organic foods producers. He later was a primary founder and investor in New Seasons with Amy.
WW has been asking Amy for weeks to talk about Brady's involvement at New Seasons, and he has repeatedly declined. When WW asked the Brady campaign to respond to Eggert's comments, Amy, a major financial backer of Brady's candidacy, released a statement.
"There have been questions regarding Eileen Brady's role at New Seasons Market and as a co-founder, I want to provide my personal perspective," Amy's prepared statement says in part. "Eileen is one of our co-founders."
In speeches, campaign materials and interviews, Brady has highlighted her association with New Seasons, calling herself a "co-founder" and "founding co-owner."
Not true, Eggert says.
Brady says the idea for New Seasons emerged from a conversation in her living room between her, her husband, Amy, and her late father. New Seasons "started in our house, literally in our office," Brady told WW.
Eggert, however, says he and Amy came up with the plan for what became New Seasons in early 1999 at the Widmer Gasthaus in North Portland. He says they brought Rohter into the deal later and asked him to manage the company.
Brady also claims that in a different meeting she helped conceive the New Seasons model: blending organic foods with conventional brands, which most natural foods stores do not do.
Here's what Brady told WW:
"We were sitting in [Stan Amy's] house, literally, with butcher paper on easels, saying, 'What did we learn from Nature's, how do we do this better, what if?'—and this is where the stroke of brilliance came—what if it was just 75 percent natural and organic foods, and it was 25 percent conventional foods? What if we sold Diet Pepsi?"
Eggert says Brady's claim misstates New Seasons' history. New Seasons, he says, was built on a model already developed by Nature's at least six years before New Seasons started. Nature's had introduced a "crossover" model in its Vancouver store and other locations with great success.
News reports support Eggert's account. Amy told Supermarket News in 1998 that Nature's had pioneered the approach of blending conventional brands with organic and natural foods.
That interview took place the year before Brady has claimed she helped develop New Seasons' crossover model.
The article even invoked Diet Coke as an example of the products Amy says had been introduced into Nature's product line. Rohter also invoked the Diet Coke example in a 1997 WW story.
Eggert says Brady's account of New Seasons' founding also discounts the fact that he, Amy and Rohter built the company around dozens of highly experienced former Nature's employees—store managers, department managers, support staff and others.
"Well over half of the first hundred employees of New Seasons had previously worked for Nature's and brought hundreds of years of grocery experience that had developed Nature's into one of the premier natural food groceries in the country," he says.
"In my mind, there was little to no risk of New Seasons not succeeding," Eggert adds.
In 2010, New Seasons' owners sold a majority stake to Endeavour Capital, a Portland buyout firm. Records show the sale left Rohter with less than a 1 percent interest in New Seasons.
In February, Eggert sold his remaining stake to Endeavour, which means the firm now owns 69 percent of New Seasons.
WW asked Brady to respond to Eggert's refutation of her claims about New Seasons. Her campaign sent this statement from her: "As others have affirmed, I'm proud of my role as a co-founder of New Seasons Market and of the many contributions that I made towards its success and the positive impact the company has had on its employees, suppliers and our neighborhoods."
Now, on March 4, Brady is trying to tighten her connection to New Seasons. Brady's campaign filmed her for a campaign commercial on the sidewalk outside the Concordia New Seasons store at 5320 NE 33rd Ave.
New Seasons officials say the company doesn't endorse political candidates. As for the Brady commercial being shot outside its store, New Seasons spokeswoman Amy Brown says, "We were not asked permission."
Eggert is not supporting any candidate in the mayoral race, but says he is proud of New Seasons' success. He agreed to answer questions to set the record straight.
"It was important to me," Eggert says, "to acknowledge the true history of the company."