By Christopher Nyerges
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

O Happy Days health food store in Altadena has a poet laureate, Seven Dhar. 

According to Dhar, “O Happy Days is more than a store. It’s a meeting place, a center of radical thought and subversive conversation, ecology, new age teachings, herbalism, holistic health concepts, and lots of kombucha.”

For more than 40 years, the eclectic health food store run by vegan John Hopkins has served as the nexus of Altadena. It’s a place where locals can meet, share ideas and enjoy fresh soup and lunch — vegan, of course.

According to Pasadena attorney Philip Koebel, “John has a genuine one-on-one relationship with everyone who walks into the store. If you don’t talk with John, then you haven’t really been there. I started going to O Happy Days regularly because it’s the only place around to get a decent vegan meal every day. It’s like John is my personal chef.”

These days, Hopkins is advising his customers that the price of the freshly served foods will be rising due to a significant rent increase. He’s hoping regulars rally to the cause and continue to support the quaint mainstay of Altadena.

The beginnings

It began in 1977, when a little shop appeared on the north side of Woodbury Road near Los Robles Avenue. It was a crowded store, with fresh produce, health food products and various herbs dangling from the ceiling and walls. A friendly proprietor, Hopkins showed that his prices were cheaper than co-ops.

John Hopkins got started in the health food and food co-op business a few years earlier when he was going to Cal State LA and was trying to cut costs with other students with whom he resided.

One of his roommates moved out and left behind a copy of Adelle Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Stay Fit” book, which further inspired Hopkins’ path.

Hopkins learned how to bake bread, make quality soup and promote healthful living. “I knew that wheat bread was good for you,” he said. “But I didn’t yet know why.”

While he was painting his new shop on Woodbury Road, he heard the words “Oh happy days” in a gospel song on the radio. That’s when he came up with the shop’s name.

Within six years, he moved farther into Altadena on Lake Avenue, just across from Elliot Middle School, where there was better exposure. After another six years, he moved north another block to the store’s current site, 2283 N. Lake Avenue. 

“Our present location is great because now we have parking in the rear, and plenty of room for people to sit inside and outside,” Hopkins said.

Upon entering O Happy Days, guests are greeted with local papers and magazines, and a bulletin board of local happenings. It feels like a throwback to the late 1960s.

According to Jane Tsong, artist and conservation planner, “Stepping into O Happy Days feels like you’re stepping into a different world, where values and people and even the speed of time are different.”

There are tables in the middle where diners wait for a bowl of Hopkins’ soup of the day. The walls are lined with herbs and economically priced products, and the upper walls mimic an eccentric art museum with pictures, statues, juicers, art and diverse political statements. One poster lists famous vegans, with the last one on the list being Hopkins.

“We promote a healthful lifestyle here, and we believe that our efforts will help contribute to a sustainable world,” Hopkins said. “I’ve always tried to make health foods affordable and provide information for all our customers.”

Shoppers have said O Happy Days shares a sense of community.

“It’s important to contribute to the feeling of community and to encourage people to sit and socialize,” Hopkins explained. “Anyone can sit in our chairs, and there is no pressure to buy anything.”

Hopkins is a rare, old-school proprietor who makes guests feel at home, even when he’s under pressure.

Former Altadena resident Michael Shermer — publisher of Skeptic magazine, executive director of the Skeptics Society and presidential fellow of Chapman University — is another fan of O Happy Days.

“For a quarter century now, I have been enjoying the healthiest foods on the planet at John’s O Happy Days store and restaurant,” Shermer said.

“John is an Altadena treasure, and his outfit represents everything we love about our city: healthy living, honest friendship and good eats. These days, Gen Zers like to purchase products with a good cause behind them, but baby boomer John was way ahead of his time when he turned food into a political and environmental cause. I’m looking forward to another quarter century of dining there.”