By Gene Marrano
What makes a city – or a valley for that matter – a cool place to love? Maybe a bit hip or at least trending in the right direction? Outdoor amenities? Check. Vibrant arts and culture scene? Check. Interesting places to eat? Got it. Craft beer? Of course. Healthy and dynamic job market with plenty of options for young(er) professionals? Working on it. Now Roanoke can add a new natural foods and organic grocery store to that mix, a chain based in one of the places ironically held up as a model for the Star City.
Earth Fare is headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina. Founded in 1975, its first Virginia location and store #44 overall opened with great buzz in early November at the growing Franklin Road center known as Ivy Market. Earth Fare’s calling card? ALL products sold there shall be free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, sweeteners and colors; there are no bleached or bromated flours – and never administered antibiotics or growth hormones. More than 750 private brand food products are sourced only with non-GMO ingredients. Those who avoid gluten products will find Earth Fare to be a safe haven.
CEO Frank Scorpiniti was in town for the opening last month, also touting a slogan adopted recently, Live Longer With Earth Fare®. “The better our communities eat the longer they will live,” noted Scorpiniti. His said the company’s real estate team “[saw Roanoke] as a community that was looking at healthier options for food; a vibrant, growing healthy community.” A relationship with a property developer they’ve worked with before also led to Roanoke as a good option for expansion and Scorpiniti said [Roanoke City] was good to work with.”
The 24,000 square foot store in Roanoke is bright, shiny and compact. There’s an 80 seat café, a hot foods bar, pizza station, salad bar, sandwich counter and a juice/smoothie counter. A daily complete takeout family meal called “Clean Food Security” averages $2.50 per person for four people and is different every day of the week – for those times when you don’t want to cook and typical fast food doesn’t sound like a good idea.
Scorpiniti says Earth Fare pricing is more reasonable than people might think, calling it the “Democratization of health food. We want to dispel that myth [about high pricing]. Compelling value does exist in a clean food environment.” And he says Earth Fare fits in with Roanoke’s more recent focus on the outdoors and fitness: “we’re a part of that healthier lifestyle – this is one piece.”
Earth Fare has jumped right in to the local scene, presenting the Roanoke Community Garden Association with a check for $3000 when they cut the ribbon; that money will go towards a new community plot being planned at Morningside Park in SE Roanoke City. A community advisory board – something Earth Fare does wherever it sets up shop – is also helping the chain (concentrated in the southeast U.S. but spreading to the Midwest) get a handle on what the locals really want to see in their store.
“The community as a whole has been very accepting of having us come here,” said Scorpiniti as some of the 90-plus employees hired so far milled around the store filling shelves and counters, a day before it opened to a long line of curious shoppers on November 8. “That makes us feel very good.” See earthfare.com for more information or just check out the store in the Ivy Market center, next to Mellow Mushroom.