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J&B opens for business Wednesday

Customer tastes were paramount when Jeff, left, and Bob Hensel planned the new 'super' store. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 3
J&B customers will find a product layout similar to the former store. The Hensels visited stores across the Midwest to gain insight into what the modern customer is looking for.2 / 3
Manufacturing representatives, construction crew members and store employees were at work this week readying J&B Foods for the Wednesday opening.3 / 3

When the sun rises Wednesday morning, J&B Foods will be welcoming customers at the new store on Highway 71 South.

Breakfast at the new deli will be ready for sampling and fresh bread will be departing the oven in the bakery.

The store's "unveiling" will be at 7 a.m. Tour guides" - J&B employees - will be ready to show customers through the 53,000-square-foot "super" store.

A floor plan, defining the store's departments and an item-by-aisle directory will be distributed. But customers will find a product pattern similar to the former store.

A cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables will dazzle the senses in the produce aisle.

Fresh seafood will be available. Sausage from the smokehouse and a variety of fresh meats - cut to order - will inspire menus.

The frozen food aisles hold nearly twice what was offered at the former site.

"We've taken steps to go above and beyond what the consumer expects," explained Bob Hensel, J&B co-owner with his brother, Jeff. The two have been in the grocery business 28 years in Park Rapids. Their first store was located in the current DAC building on Pleasant Avenue.

"It's the same everyday low prices; we're just adding variety," he said.

Before drawing floor plans, the brothers Hensel set off on an expedition to survey successful grocery stores in the Midwest.

This store, Bob Hensel said, addresses an evolution in shoppers' buying choices, while appealing to a range of customers. "We stress variety and value.

"People are cooking at home more," he said. And they're requesting a broader range of items. Cilantro, for example, was a foreign word not too long ago.

"Consumers," he explained, "buy with their senses."

Open work areas, with the store's award-winning cake decorators and delicatessen chefs in action - will show works in progress.

The four-foot pastry case will dazzle with gourmet chocolates and "made from scratch" doughnuts, pastries and cake, available by the slice.

The deli will offer custom sub style sandwiches, a soup and salad bar and grilled Italian panini sandwiches. A seating area allows customers to enjoy the fare on site. Breakfast, lunch and dinner specials will be available.

Approximately 350 imported and domestic cheese selections grace the deli area.

A bakery/deli checkout area expedites purchases. An expanded line of natural and organic dairy, frozen and other foods will be available.

"We're adding new items in response to people's eating habits," Hensel said of the organic and natural products. "People are more health conscious. We've tried to address that."

Bulk bins will hold steel cut oatmeal, sesame mix, organic rice and flour and other natural foods.

The store will offer video rental and a pharmacy will open in the southwest corner of the store in mid-April.

Health and beauty care lines are also expanded.

This week, the aisles were teeming with manufacturing representatives, readying the store for next week's opening. Construction crewmembers were adding finishing touches to the aesthetically pleasing marketplace.

The south store will close at 10 p.m. tonight, the staff from the two stores now consolidated.

The store will remain open on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week.

Customers will find a 99 percent complete store, he said, with the parking lot and landscaping to be finished later this spring.

"We appreciate customer patience during the transition," Hensel said of the three-day shutdown.

"Jeff and I are so grateful to the community, staff and everyone involved in the process," Bob Hensel said. "The community has been awesome. It's very humbling. We're grateful for the opportunity."

A grand opening - after finishing touches are complete - will be held later in the spring.