Dan Lamontagne, founder of Peddler Bicycle Shop and one of Memphis' first all-natural restaurants, trades the brick-and-mortar store for life as a local meditation instructor.
Daniel Lamontagne has helped students in the practice of meditation and the healing arts for nearly 35 years. As an entrepreneur, he’s led several practices that he believes promote health of the mind, spirit and body.
He teaches mediation classes across town and leads workshops and retreats for a variety of businesses, organizations and individuals. Using the business name Meditate with Dan, Lamontagne teaches participants the art of keeping stress signals and negative thoughts from undermining a person’s best intentions.
Lamontagne followed a career path that began with opening the Peddler Bike Shop in the university area, although when he started the business in 1971, he didn’t realize it was a step that would lead him to a meditation practice.
“The biggest thing I was always into or wanted to do was whatever business I was in, it was to promote the health and betterment of the world in terms of consciousness,” he said. “In terms of whether it’s physical, mental or spiritual for me it has to be part of what I do.”
Dan Lamontagne signals the end of meditation with the ringing of cymbals.Lamontagne’s inspiration to enter the bicycle business came from his uncle who owned a bike shop in New England. It also was at a time that gas prices jumped from what he remembers 27 cents to 87 cents per gallon. The new 10-speed bicycles also were a revelation for cyclists.
He moved to Memphis and saw an opportunity for a bike shop, particularly near a university. The business began off Highland Avenue and eventually would expand to three locations before Lamontagne sold it to a former manager.
During those early days Lamontagne also discovered organic gardening. His house was located near the bike shop, where he had a large yard that he converted into a quarter of an acre of raised-bed gardens. An employee at the bike shop introduced Lamontagne to health foods and he began changing his diet to deal with health problems.
In 1979 Lamontagne was ahead of his time, particularly for Memphis. That didn’t keep him from opening a restaurant that focused on healthy food options. Lamontagne traveled the U.S. to study concepts that worked in other cities.
Lamontagne said he decided the best way to create a successful health food restaurant in the unhealthy South in the late 1970s was to surround himself with experienced people. He and a chef who studied macrobiotic foods spent a year preparing for the restaurant’s opening, even though a feasibility basically told Lamontagne that his idea was “crazy”.
“That was a problem for me with my businesses. I’m always ahead of my time,” Lamontagne said.
But the restaurant did things differently, and that helped it succeed. Lamontagne brought in brown rice from Arkansas, the staff made their own rolls and muffins, they grew vegetables in front of the restaurant and made everything from scratch. But in a meat-and-potatoes scene, Lamontagne said he knew he needed staples to survive. The menu included items such as burgers and beef stroganoff.
“You can be very idealistic when creating something new and you don’t see a bigger picture,” he said. “Your first thing as a business is to bring in as many people as possible. Businesses are difficult to start up, especially a new idea. It was a realization that mom would be more open to eating vegetarian meals back then but dad would want beef, chicken and fish.”
A candle sits at the center of Dan Lamontagne's meditation class at the Evergreen Yoga Center.
He sold Lamontagne Natural Restaurant in 1986. He’s had people ask when he plans to open a restaurant again but he’s more interested in the gardening side of that business. In fact, Lamontagne taught organic gardening at the Memphis Botanic Garden for 10 years.
He eventually sold the bike shop in 1990, and took what had been a part-time passion teaching meditation and made it a full-time effort.
Looking back on his more traditional businesses in the fitness and food industries, Lamontagne said he does deal more with raised eyebrows with meditation.
As an independent instructor, Lamontagne will come to a corporate setting, school or church to offer classes. Memphis employees at Youth Villages participated in a six-week group course, for example.
“He focused on stress relief in the workplace as well as working on mindfulness in any situation,” said Debby Williamson, a wellness coordinator at Youth Villages. “I had someone call me to let me know that she had used what she had learned from Daniel while undergoing an MRI that day. She said it helped her to get through something that she was not able to before.”
“There are similarities in every business but it reaches a totally different market,” Lamontagne said. “I have things people are looking for but it’s usually because of difficulties they’re going through in life. That wasn’t the case through the bicycle business or restaurant.”