Southtown Health Foods Has Generations of Success 

By Brian Marchetti 

BAPA Icon Collection is a special series dedicated to honoring the legacy of local businesses that have been an integral part of our community for decades. Each article shares the rich history, the families that built them, their enduring contributions, and the secrets behind their longevity. Join us as we celebrate the timeless businesses that continue to shape the fabric of our community. 

For three generations, Southtown Health Foods has provided the South side of Chicago and surrounding suburbs with nutritious fare to help customers sustain a more robust lifestyle. With nearly eight decades of success, the business’ origins sprung from a woman’s desire to help others. 

Its mission began when Frieda Mahler, a nurse who worked with dying patients, purchased a juice bar at 63rd and Halsted in 1946. She hoped to utilize her medical knowledge to offer customers top quality foods and meals.  

In 1990, Frieda’s son, Emil Mahler, purchased the business. He maintained a high level of success by following the advice of his mother. 

“My mother had a motto,” Emil Mahler, current president and owner, said. “Customers get service, service, service. The more customers you satisfy, the more you grow.” 

Currently located at 2100 W. 95th St. In Beverly/Morgan Park, Southtown Health Foods offers a wide variety of organic groceries, gluten free products, dairy and nondairy foods, along with a juice bar. The legacy of providing the community with healthy alternatives to the chain supermarkets that started with Frieda, then to Emil, has continued in the family as Emil’s daughter and son-in-law, Katie and Michael Speh serve as the store’s current managers. 

“All four of my children worked in the store when they were growing up,” Emil said. “Now all of them work in the food industry in one way or another. I guess I’m guilty of making them work too hard.” 

While Emil’s dedication to Southtown Health Foods and its customers has been his life’s work, he has also maintained strong ties to the community. He served on the 95th Street Business Association for ten years. The Mahlers have also donated to BAPA and are sponsoring the youth mile in this year’s upcoming Ridge Run. 

“The youth is the future of our community. They’re the ones that need our support.” Emil said. “We’re seeing the children of our previous shoppers follow in their parents’ footsteps.” 

The path to creating and sustaining such an icon of success comes through endless hours of hard work and strong customer service. Yet, according to Emil, none of this would have been possible without the support of his family, in particular, his wife. 

“None of this would have been possible without my wife, Mary Anne,” Emil said. “She’s helped me for 34 years and worked alongside me when we doubled our size but not our staff.” 


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