California Organics’ Lisa Kysar said the grocery store will continue to advocate the health and wellbeing of Nevada City families after the death of her husband and business partner Chris Kysar.
Lisa said the gratitude she showed her son Zach and her adoptive family for the grocery store’s 20 or so employees had only grown since her husband died of COVID-19 complications about two weeks ago.
Chris Kysar died on August 23, aged 63, with his humor intact, Lisa said. The bio enthusiast even joked with nurses in the intensive care unit at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital.
“I think he wants to be remembered for his joke,” said Lisa Kysar. “Even the nurses in the intensive care unit joked with him. He always had a story or some kind of joke. “
At least some of these stories and jokes were collected over the 42 years the couple was in a relationship, but it was the same good-naturedness and storytelling ability that charmed Lisa when the couple met at the age of 20 met for the first time.
“We met at a party where a couple of friends wanted to introduce me to this other guy who was just plain disgusting,” said Lisa Kysar of the couple’s first interaction. “Chris saw that the whole thing was bothering me, so he introduced himself and started talking to me.”
Lisa said she drove Chris Kysar home after a 3am breakfast – pigs in a blanket – at a Denny’s in the San Fernando Valley.
“That was before he was a vegan or a vegetarian,” Lisa said.
Lisa said Chris Kysar was working in a high-end bodywork when she met him. According to California Organics’ history, Chris Kysar left the Porsches and Ferraris company to bag groceries after realizing that his work environment was negatively affecting his health.
“The pollution from the paint shop was so bad that he just decided it was so bad that he didn’t want to do it anymore,” Lisa said. “He got a job as a boxing boy in a shop called Mrs. Gooch’s.”
Lisa said Chris Kysar was quickly promoted to principal buyer for the Sherman Oaks health food markets. She attributed her husband’s rapid rise to his passion for food and an inherent charisma that helped with personal and professional connections.
“He was very into food and he was very against pesticides,” said Lisa.
Mrs. Gooch’s was acquired by Whole Foods in 1993, Lisa said, a testament to just how health conscious Chris Kysar was, but also accomplished.
According to a poster hanging behind a California Organic register, Chris Kysar watched the health food industry shift from hippies to more mainstream buyers over the past 32 years. The shopkeeper can remember a time when it was dominated by “many guys without shoes”.
Lisa said California Organics is one of at least three grocery stores in the immediate area that promote responsible eating but attribute loyalty to the store’s family-friendly operation.
“We are family-oriented,” said Lisa Kysar. “During COVID, you see children in the store because childcare is so expensive.”
Lisa said she and Chris saw the limited options for parents to support their children financially – and physically – as the pandemic wore on. Regarding the staff’s family as her own, she said Chris Kysar’s goal was to enable distance learning children to use the store’s computers for study over the past year.
“Our employees can bring their children to work. That helped them because children didn’t go to school during COVID, ”Lisa explained. “They used computers upstairs to work online.”
Offering a personal solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem has always been Chris Kysar’s way, Lisa said.
“It could surpass any problem I’ve seen,” Lisa said. “He was always able to find a solution because he always thought outside the box.”
Creative thinking is necessary, said Lisa, if you have to rebuild everything after losing it.
The Kysars came to Nevada City after losing their health food store in Sonoma to a fire. After an unsuccessful fight against her insurance company, Lisa said she and Chris were out of money and ideas.
“We were in litigation, we lost everything – the house – and then someone said, ‘There’s a store in Nevada City, you might really like this up here,'” Lisa said.
A member of her 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, ‘If you get the chance, keep paying,'” Lisa said.
With that help, and a newfound sense of hope, the Kysars bought California Organics – formerly Ananda-owned Earth Song – 13 years ago.
Chris Kysar took the man’s message to heart, said Lisa, and went to great lengths to get to know his customers and employees personally and to help where he could.
“He was really very generous,” said Lisa. “If someone needed something and didn’t have the money for it, he told them to come. He was always available with his phone number and email and said that people should call him directly. “
Lisa said the Kysars move to Nevada County has more benefits than just the ability to sell organic to health conscious people.
“It was best for our son to come to Nevada City and go to school in Nevada City,” Lisa said. “He has incredible opportunities and friends for life.”
Zach Kysar was just starting first grade when his family moved. He said that if his father hadn’t committed himself to his education through trips to an AP computer science class on Sierra College’s Roseville campus, he would be pursuing a different career path. Now the 26-year-old has signed contracts with large technology companies in the Bay Area.
“I think a big part of his mission was to make sure everyone had a livelihood and everyone was cared for,” said Zach Kysar.
Rebecca O’Neil is a writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]