How a Virginia Independent Fills a Need for Healthy, Gourmet Food

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When the pandemic forced so many companies to rethink their operations or halt their expansion plans, Ezaddin Alshami and his business partner Faizal Surti formed the National Gourmet Market and opened not one but two food markets in the food deserts of the Richmond, Virginia area. And with plans to open a third this fall and a fourth in 2022, it’s clear some risks are paying off.

Alshami’s business acumen – he previously ran convenience stores with his father from the 1990s to early 2000s before selling them in 2007 and entering the ATM business – and dedication to the community have contributed to the success of the companies in the National Gourmet Market.

“I learned a long time ago to give people what they need and not what we think would work for them,” he said. WGB in an interview.

Part of that means exploring the area, talking directly with community members who might ultimately be shopping in the stores. “Months before opening the doors, we talk to customers in the neighborhood. We stop and chat with people who live near the location we intend to open, [asking them] what kind of concept and what kind of market would suit their needs, ”said Alshami.

Alshami and Surti, operation manager, This is exactly what they did before opening the first gourmet market, Northside Gourmet Market, in November 2020. They found that the community was looking for healthier alternatives that they didn’t have to travel far – c ‘was especially important amid COVID-19 as consumers stayed closer to home and avoided larger and crowded spaces, Alshami said.

At the heart of every store is health and wellness. Vegan, gluten-free and organic products and products fill the shelves, with each market averaging about 6,000 SKUs in about 2,000 to 5,000 square feet of space.

“That’s a huge number for a small market,” Alshami said. But don’t be fooled by the square footage. Because each market aims to offer variety and serve as a unique local store, some customers walk away with around $ 200. from the grocery store, just as they would in a big box store, he said.

Interior of the national gastronomic market
Photo courtesy of the National Gourmet Market

Shortly after the opening of Northside, Alshami and Surti opened Mocha Gourmet Market in the Oregon Hill neighborhood of Richmond, with the intention of opening a market at Scott’s Addition this fall and another in Jackson Ward in 2022. While National Gourmet Market tailors each store “based on the needs of the neighborhood,” for example, the Jackson Ward store will be the first to offer food service due to ‘a lack of options in the community – one thing remains constant: the belief that’customers are our partners in this business ”, said Alshami.

It means engaging with churches, police and firefighters, boys ‘and girls’ clubs and schools, as well as encouraging engagement in the stores themselves. “It is important to establish the roots of our business on a personal level,” he said.

An example of this is last Christmas, outside his Northside store, National gastronomic market set up a Christmas tree for the community to decorate and put gifts on. These gifts were then given to community members in need on Christmas Eve. “It was beautiful,” Alshami said. “Due to the success and the feeling of being a part of something in the neighborhood, we have decided to implement this every year in all of our stores. ”

Neighborhood tree of the national gastronomic market
Photo courtesy of the National Gourmet Market

And over the next three years, that could be 10 stores, according to initial plans, Alshami said, which also includes keeping stores under 10,000 square feet; continue to meet the need for healthy and gourmet food in food deserts; and, at the same time, evolving with the community as needs change.

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