A Second Helping of Sunyata

members of Eau Claire’s original food co-op plan reunion

Barbara Arnold |

Long before Just Local Food Cooperative, 1117 S. Farwell St., came on the Eau Claire scene, there was the Sunyata Whole Food Co-op and Bakery.

“I guess you could say a bunch of hippies started it back in the ’70s,” said Paul Wagner, a retired UW-Eau Claire computer science professor. He and his wife, Cindy Schlosser, are among eight former co-op members who are spearheading an upcoming reunion of those affiliated with Sunyata, which was formed in 1974 and dissolved in 2000.

All members, volunteers, employees, board members, and children of all of the above are invited to the gathering, which will commemorate the publication of the Sunyata Food Co-op Cookbook 40 years ago. The celebration will be 5-9pm Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Youth Camp Lodge at Beaver Creek Reserve, S1 County Road K, Fall Creek. Besides reminiscing about Sunyata, the event’s focus will be fellowship, fun, and food. Anyone attending is asked to bring a dish to share. Any food would be welcome; recipes using the Sunyata cookbook would be especially fun.

According to the 336-page cookbook, Sunyata’s Whole Foods Cookery for Big & Little Folks, the benefits of a food co-op are many: “political … locally bought and sourced food … bulk buying to save money … obtaining food not readily available elsewhere … food chosen for its wholeness and lack of of additives … organically grown food … and the sense of camaraderie working together brings.”

The name “Sunyata” was chosen by vote at a general meeting, according to a history included in the cookbook. Sunyata is a Buddhist term which means “a void that can never be filled.” 

Nancy Cleary, Sunyata’s first volunteer manager, laughingly agreed with Wagner’s statement about the co-op’s hippie start, and shared that what she loved was the ambiance. “We had people from all walks of life volunteering at the store as members of the co-op,” she said. “Students, professors, doctors, lawyers, laborers, nurses, etc. All of us were working toward a common goal. And to see what we built was amazing.”

Through its lifetime, the co-op had several locations: Beginning at a couple of locations on Water Street, it moved to Bellinger Street, then to West Grand Avenue near the Eau Claire County Courthouse. It’s last home was at 409 Galloway St., currently the Galloway Grille, where the rear dining room still bears the name “Sunyata.” 

For information about the reunion, please contact Paul Wagner at or call Paul or Cindy at 715-835-4247.