Earlier this week, Mrs. Green’s (585 Hudson Street; 212-651-3151) opened its doors in the West Village — the first New York City location among the Irvington-based natural-foods grocer’s twenty or so stores in the United States and Canada. The 12,000-square-foot space, previously a Duane Reade store, has been in development for more than two years.
Competitor Whole Foods operates one of its nine NYC stores less than half a mile away in Chelsea, but Pat Brown, CEO of Mrs. Green’s parent company Natural Foods Market Group, tells the Voice the company aims to stand out in the growing field of upscale healthy retail by becoming a friendly neighborhood fixture and a resource for ultra-local products. “We want all natural ingredients, we’re focused on organic and local in a pretty strong way,” Brown says. “A significant amount of our produce is local product from the Hudson Valley, which is different from what you’d find in another retailer, where ‘local’ to them might mean New Jersey, Pennsylvania — we decided to focus on what you could get as close to the city as possible.”
We saw late-summer produce from the Hudson Valley — including heirloom tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, and greens — along with other items you can’t grow in New York, like imported pineapples, kiwis, and bananas.
Shelf markers posted throughout the store highlight local goodies like sausages and salami from Brooklyn Cure and Piggery, Hot Bread Kitchen rolls, mini gluten-free paleo cheesecakes from This Pie Is Nuts, and chocolate-honey truffles made by Catskill Provisions. “I want us to be the kind of place where a really small producer can test what they have, and they can grow based on the opportunity we’ve given them in our store,” Brown says.
The store dedicates much of its first floor space to ready-made food departments, set up to please what market analysts have deemed a discerningly health-conscious clientele: a fresh-pressed-juice bar, a yogurt parfait bar that uses (locally made) Sohha yogurt as the base for a selection of add-ins; a chopped-salad, sandwich and wrap counter, and a “hot-bowl” station stocked with Westchester-based Ladle of Love Soups and hearty store-made stews spooned from pea-tendril-green Le Creuset casseroles.
Also on the first level: a personal-care, vitamin, and supplement section staffed by a wellness advisor “to answer specific dietary and nutrition questions,” and a coffee bar serving coffee and cold brew from Stumptown (headquartered in Oregon, yes, but roasted in Brooklyn!). The basement retail area, accessible either by stairs or an elevator (not yet in service pending final inspection) houses dry and canned goods, dairy, frozen foods, pet food, and meat and seafood departments that offer fresh, in-house cuts.
Brown has headed the company only since July 2014. He arrived after four years as CEO of Oregon’s New Seasons market and eighteen as director of operations at Central Market, based in Texas.
His predecessor, Robin Michel, was ousted amid a clash with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which alleged labor-law violations at Mrs. Green’s Westchester County location.
Brown says charges of wrongdoing were “dismissed 100 percent,” but the UFCW has not forgotten. On the sidewalk near the new store’s entrance, a few people handed out flyers decrying “Mrs. Greed’s” as “not your neighborhood market.”
Responds Brown: “If our people were interested in having representation, that’s their decision. I’m really excited about the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with our employees, and from my perspective I hope it stays that way. We’ve had one election at our location in Westchester and they voted to not have a union. There’s an opportunity to have another one whenever they’re ready.”
Brown says the new store employs a staff of 195. “That’s a lot for our stores — we’re really excited about our team, all of them are from NYC,” he says, adding, “you can’t expect great customer service without giving the same to our associates.”
During our visit, on day two of operations, no shortage of attentive staff circulated, helping customers navigate strollers and wheelchairs from one level to the next, tracking down items, and answering questions.
Of the design and launch, Brown says his team “was trying to create a happy place, one that fits into whatever neighborhood we’re in. I think we’ve accomplished that here.”