TUMWATER - Put yourself first.
That three-word philosophy has been the foundation of the 40-year health food careers of octogenarians Joe and Virginia Mugartegui.
"Your body is the most important thing out there; it's not your car or your house," said Joe, 82, who co-owns Smart Nutrition at 3405 Capitol Blvd. S.E.
The Mugarteguis preached the virtues of vitamins and herbs years before chain stores got into the field.
Their fame has spread well beyond their loyal customers at J-Vee Health Foods, which they sold to a customer in the early 1990s. The Mugarteguis have operated Smart Nutrition at its single location the past 30 years.
The National Nutritional Foods Association is set to award the Mugarteguis a plaque in Seattle on Saturday in honor of their pioneering efforts in the health food industry.
"They're a testament to what health foods can do for you," said Mary Ann Hunt, executive director of the association's Northwest region.
Earlier in her life, as she suffered with migraine headaches, Virginia Mugartegui said, she turned to a health food remedy she learned about while a follower of the famed late nutritionist Adelle Davis. The combination of brewer's yeast and a calcium-laden multiple vitamin worked, she said.
"I thought, boy, this health food business is pretty good," said Virginia, 81.
She had operated a gift shop while Joe worked unloading grain cars at the former Tumwater brewery. As they studied more about health foods, the Mugarteguis, married for 61 years, decided to go into the business of selling vitamins, herbs and fresh foods.
They started with $500 and built their own display shelves to get started.
Today, their 3,000-square-foot store includes books, a small shoe selection, frozen foods, a Chinese herb section and numerous shelves of vitamins, supplements, protein powders and even pet foods.
Virginia recalled how her father, an insurance executive, visited her J-Vee (short for Joe and Virginia) store because he was sure health foods were a risky career.
"He said I came by to see where I was going to go broke," she said. "I wish he could see us now."
Their loyal customers say the Mugarteguis win them over with their dedication to their products and their light sales touch.
"They aren't pushing stuff on you," said Robert Hilden, a customer for nearly 30 years. "They give you a fishing pole rather than a fish."
Gail Schumacher, a customer since 1988, is fond of the store's wild salmon patties, its organic raw cheddar cheese and the cold remedies she has tried in the Chinese herb section.
"They're helpful and take time to talk," Schumacher said of the couple. "It's a family business, and I want to support a local family business.
Address: 3405 Capitol Blvd. S.E., Tumwater
Business: health foods
Owners: Joe and Virginia Mugartegui
Other principals: son, Craig; daughter, Kathryn
Number of employees: seven
Other merchandise: books, shoes, pet food
Quote: "You have to believe in what you're doing, and you have to study your products." - Virginia Mugartegui