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Mt. Vernon Foodtown flourishing after renovations

MT. VERNON, NY — The Foodtown store in the city of Mt. Vernon, NY, has experienced strong growth following a six-month renovation and remodeling, which increased the size of both the store and the produce department, providing more room to showcase the exceptional variety of fresh produce items offered to its shoppers.

The supermarket, located here in Westchester County, just north of New York City, underwent an extensive renovation foodtown91At the Foodtown in Mt. Vernon, NY, in mid-April: Bob Gould of C&S Wholesale Grocers, Dean Holmquist of Allegiance Retail Services LLC, Esmail Mobarak of the Mt. Vernon Foodtown and Michael Gallagher of Allegiance.from January 2012 until June 2012, and held a grand re-opening in early September. The cost of the improvements was about $2.25 million, according to Esmail Mobarak, owner of the store.

With better utilization of the basement area for refrigeration, storage and the like, the store was able to add about 2,000 square feet storewide, including extra space for the fresh produce department, according to Mr. Mobarak.

The improvements proved to be an immediate success with the store's shoppers. In fact, he said, produce sales showed an increase of 20 percent — on an annual basis — following the improvements, and storewide sales showed an increase of about 24 percent, also on an annual basis.

The produce area was "opened up," Mr. Mobarak told The Produce News, allowing, for example, island displays, "which accentuate the product" and which enhance the overall atmosphere of the produce department.

foodtown86From Allegiance Retail Services LLC: Michael Gallagher, field merchandiser for produce and floral, and Dean Holmquist, vice president of perishables, with cut watermelon and cut mixed fruit at the Foodtown in Mt. Vernon, NY.And an exciting atmosphere it is. When The Produce News visited the store in this city of about 62,000 people, shoppers would first walk past a self-contained display of "Driscoll's" brand strawberries on one side and large Navel oranges on the other before proceeding into the heart of the spacious produce department.

In the department, floor-to-ceiling cases — part of the newly added improvements — were filled with an amazing variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, with LED lighting to display them brightly and attractively.

"You have to have the right mix of items to cater to the customers," said Mr. Mobarak. "We adapt to what our customer base is."

Modar Saraireh is the manager of the store, having been promoted about five months ago from assistant manager.

Leo Garcia, who has been at this Foodtown for about 10 years, is the produce manager. At the time of this visit, Mr. Garcia said that among the items selling very well were bananas, pineapples, avocados, papayas, cantaloupes, coconuts, grapes and tomatoes.

C&S Wholesale Growers, headquartered in Hatfield, MA, is the primary supplier of all items except meat to this Foodtown. Allegiance Retail Services, a retailer-owned cooperative headquartered foodtown83Bob Gould, field specialist for fresh produce with C&S Wholesale Grocers, the primary supplier of fresh produce to the Foodtown in Mt. Vernon, Iselin, NJ, provides marketing, advertising, technological and operational support as well as a full line of "Foodtown" private-label products.

"I would consider this an example of the emerging store," said Dean Holmquist, vice president of perishables at Allegiance. The owner has "taken this store to a whole new level" with outstanding prepared foods, seafood and cut fruit. "This is the new Foodtown in New York."

Referring to the renovations in the produce department, Mr. Holmquist added with excitement, "Look at the greens, look at the fruit. They have to use every inch available to them." The owner "runs exceptional stores. He has very high standards."

Mr. Mobarak, 42, has owned the Mt. Vernon Foodtown for 10 years. He also owns one store in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, which has been "a family store" since 1977.

"I grew up in this business," said Mr. Mobarak, who lives in White Plains, NY. And while he has no immediate plans to open new supermarkets, "I do have plans to grow," he declared. "I'm still fairly young, and I have four kids," two of whom are in college.

He continued, "New York is the melting pot of the world. Where else can you give them the diversity of their culture than in the supermarket?"

Regarding the success of the supermarket, he named two factors: his business relationship with both C&S and Allegiance, and his staff at the Mt. Vernon Foodtown.

The executives at C&S and Allegiance "work well with the team here," he stated. "They have the right items at the right price. They're great to work with."

And looking around to the folks working in the produce department, he added, "They really have pride in what they do. You see pride in everyone here."