Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Root Cellar Green Grocer

I have been buying more and more of my fruit and vegatables from the Root Cellar at 1286 Mackenzie Ave. Their prices are good, their quality is high and the selection is broad. I have dropped almost all my fruit and veg shopping from the grocery stores and given it to them. If you have not gone and shopped there, please try it out.

Family market bucks trend

Loyal fresh food customers keep cash registers ringing

By Carla Wilson, Times Colonist
February 12, 2009 4:02 AM

In these days of economic uncertainty, the one-year-old Root Cellar Village Green Grocer is bucking the trend by tallying steady sales growth as loyal customers keep business booming.

"It's a little bit ridiculous," says Daisy Leslie-Orser, who owns the business with husband Adam Orser and friend "Uncle" Phil Lefreniere. "It just snowballed."

The trio has been taken aback by the success of their business, at the corner of Blenkinsop Road and McKenzie Avenue. In fact, it's been nominated in the new business category in this year's Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce's business awards.

Healthy sales have led to plans for a 1,000-square-foot building extension and more tents outdoors this spring, Orser said yesterday.

The grocery store focuses first on local produce, gradually moving farther away geographically to buy what's needed.

Since the Root Cellar opened last February, sales have climbed four times beyond what was expected, he said. Early projections of a maximum of 10 staff were soon ditched as employee numbers climbed to 42 in the busy summer and are now at about 35.

Three tills weren't enough to cope with the number of customers, so two more were added.

The Root Cellar has created a space for itself in the highly competitive grocery market, where margins are tight and pennies count. Greater Victoria shoppers already have high expectations because other grocery businesses also focus on good service, local products and community involvement.

Customers are interested in cooking and eating healthier, said Lefreniere. "People will never stop eating."

Today's economic troubles may have even helped the business because shoppers are making meals from scratch and seeking competitive prices, Leslie-Orser said.

Some suppliers aren't even farmers but are backyard gardeners who enjoy growing produce. One man brings in "beautiful" white turnips, all perfectly washed with their greens on, Leslie-Orser said. "They are art-photography quality." Also, customer requests lead to custom orders.

Shopper Judy Dziedziuch of Saanich said as a native of the Okanagan, she trusts the Okanagan family that bought the business. "Okanagan people know their fruits and vegetables," she said, adding she likes the Root Cellar's prices and quality. "They also sell a lot of local produce."

Leslie-Orser believes the owners' past experience made the difference between success and failure. The three had worked together for a group of market stores in the Okanagan, and Orser had opened several stores.

Lefreniere is the acting store manager and typically works seven days a week, said Leslie-Orser, who does administrative work. Orser's role includes going to Vancouver overnight every week to order produce from warehouses, as well as expansion planning and working with chefs and restaurants to promote their products.

Leslie-Orser and Orser are also parents of boys Tai, 10, Raine, four, and Diem, 18 months. The boys' mother laughs when she says work gets done with crossed eyes and octopus arms. "I work from home a lot. We're busy."

Staff morale gets a boost on Friday nights, when a gym is rented for games, and with activities such as summer barbecues. The management team has access to profit-sharing. The Root Cellar also supports community organizations and schools.

Owners, staff and customers are "sort of a family tribe," Leslie-Orser said -- customers even arrived at Christmas with goodies made from Root Cellar products.

When Leslie-Orser is busy, an employee hoists little Diem on her hip. Since the first day, Tai has helped out. He likes to sweep, collect carts and carry bags to cars.

"People like that," his dad said.
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