Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI) is a grocery store that offers natural and organic products at premium prices. Ten years ago, that was a crazy concept that seemed too narrow for mass appeal. Yet Whole Foods is about to open its 182nd store. It's the 39th-best-performing stock of the last decade, posting 2,000% gains.

Whole Foods' stock gain isn't the result of being buoyed by a blockbuster industry such as oil or homebuilding. While it was busy posting 35% annualized gains over the past decade, competitors such as Safeway (NYSE:SWY), Albertson's (NYSE:ABS), and Kroger (NYSE:KR) slumped to 6.7%, 1%, and 7.9% returns, respectively.

Looking for crazy
What set Whole Foods apart from its competitors and the thousands of other public companies? For one, it was small and underfollowed. It was also committed to reinventing its space under dedicated management.

How could investors have found Whole Foods back when it was a $500 million small cap? It would have been difficult. Even at the end of 1996, Whole Foods was not yet consistently profitable. And while the revenue growth looked great, naysayers labeled organic foods and their premium prices as nothing more than a fad.

Finding crazy
Whole Foods, however, had an X-factor in founder and CEO John Mackey. Like other great corporate leaders, he demonstrated an incredible commitment to his company, his employees, his mission, and his stakeholders. One indicator of this unique corporate culture is that Mackey limited the cash compensation of company officers to just 10 times that of the average full-time salary of all employees. And every year since 1998, Fortune has listed Whole Foods as one of the 100 best companies to work for.

While revenue continued to explode throughout the past decade, Whole Foods had some growing pains and working capital problems that prevented it from generating as much cash as possible. Yet Mackey continued to invest in the business and build an incredibly strong corporate culture. Those efforts started falling to the bottom line in 2001; the company now pays a dividend and has nearly erased its debt.

Crazy can work
The market's best stocks all set themselves apart. Firms like Whole Foods, Costco (NASDAQ:COST), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), and Hidden Gems recommendation AmeristarCasinos (NASDAQ:ASCA)boast founders/CEOs who did business differently -- sometimes crazily -- and did it well. Mackey and Costco's Jim Sinegal built novel retail concepts and motivated their employees with much-better-than-average benefits. Michael Dell's built-to-order business model helped turn personal computers into commodities. And Ameristar's Craig Neilsen put together an incredible casino company by avoiding Las Vegas. These crazy ideas are some of the greatest investment stories of the past 10 years.

Along with our thousands of subscribers, we search for great entrepreneurs and investment stories just like these every month at Hidden Gems. Our picks are beating the S&P 500 by more than 25 percentage points on average, and we'd love to have you join us. Click here to try our service free for 30 days. There is no obligation to subscribe.

It's so crazy, it might just work.

Whole Foods, Dell, and Costco are Stock Advisor recommendations. Tim Hanson owns shares of Whole Foods. No Fool is too cool for disclosure ... and Tim's pretty darn cool.