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Trio to fuel Earth Fare restart
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 12:07
By JOHN NORTH
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Earth Fare, a health and wellness supermarket chain founded in Asheville in 1975 that grew to 50 stores before shutting down in bankrupty on Feb. 25, will reopen as a five-store, trimmed-down company, possibly in June, if not even earlier.

Sharing their hopes and dreams for the company during an hour-long interview March 30 with the Daily Planet were Randy Talley, one of the founders of Earth Fare, and Bethany Turon, who will lead the new chain. 

Talley, along with the third top leader of the new effort, Mike Cianciarulo, former president and chief executive officer of Earth Fare from 1997 to 2008, worked together for many years at Earth Fare. This time, they will serve as Turon’s “mentors” and “stewards.” Talley said they will “will be responsible for making sure” the company succeeds.

Talley lavished praise on Cianciarulo, noting that “he was instrumental in building us from two stores to 15 stores — and as a profitable and successful business. He previously was president of another grocery store (Goodings in Orlanda, Fla.) He brings a lot of that operation expertise...”

Cianciarulo has referred to Talley as having “a focus and knowledge of this industry, both natural and organic grocery, and a passion for the business.” He has credited Talley with providing “a lot of inspiration for the idea.”

Chosen to serve as the company’s president and CEO is Turon, who has lived in Asheville for a year, and was the senior vice president of human resources and organizational strategy until the previous Earth Fare shut down. 

The newly formed chain will include the original Westgate store as its sole Asheville location, as well as one other North Carolina location — in Boone.

There also will be reopened Earth Fare stores in Roanoke, Va., Athens, Ga., and Summerville, S.C. However, store officials emphasized during the interview that the number of stores likely will increase soon as they are pursuing other store reopenings.

The former Hendersonville Road store was quickly purchased for a price way beyond their budget by Whole Foods, Talley and Turon said of the other Asheville location. 

However, the two Earth Fare officers said that, if the customers express overwhelmng demand for it and an appropriate existing big-box store location can be found, they would be enthused about pursuing a reopening in South Asheville, too.

 

Talley stressed that one of his aspirations with the restart of Earth Fare is to have “the smaller group of stores and a return to the original emphasis on organic produce.”

 

Talley also said of his alliance with Turon and Cianciarulo, “The community’s outpouring of support (after the announcement of the shutdown) brought us together. I was trying to raise money for (a reopening of) the Earth Fare stores — both of them (in Asheville), when I met Bethany. She had a bigger idea. My idea was to save one single store and hers was to save as much of Earth Fare as possible. I was aware it would take millions of dollars.”

 

Turon added, “The same level of impact and passion in our communities existed. I saw that in Randy.”

 

Turon and Talley noted that Dennis Hulsing (with homes in Asheville and Kansas City) of Hulsing Enterprises “got word that we were working on this project when the original bids were due.”

 

Talley said of Hulsing, “He made his bid for saving Earth Fare, including the brand. We had all systems ready to go, but not enough money. He had enough money to bid on as many stores as possible, including the brand name. It was a very exciting roller-coaster ride.”

 

(“The purchase of several store leases was made official by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware Bankruptcy on March 25. Those include the leases for two former Earth Fare locations in Asheville and single locations in Athens, Ga., Roanoke, Va., and Boone, for a combined $1.6 million, according to the court documents,” the Watauga Democrat newspaper in Boone reported.)

 

Talley added, “He (Hulsing) has a personal story around how this style — natural and organic eating — has affected his life. He believes in what he does.

 

“He has (owns) both Asheville Racquet Clubs and 11 hotels, including Crowne Plaza and Four Points by Sheraton in Asheville” and many other enterprises.

 

“We become part of Hulsing Enterprises, which he’s CEO of,” Talley said. “He’ll be actively ensuring our success and supporting us. He’ll make sure we build up the vision in a way that will be sustainable. I’d call him a self-made man... He grew up on a farm.”

 

As for Roger Derrough, who founded Dinner for the Earth in an old brick building on Merrimon Avenue in 1975 that later morphed into Earth Fare, Talley said of his friend, “Roger is financially supporting (the project) as a community investor. He does have a lot going on” in his life, but “he’s certainly open to future involvement with the Earth Fare operation.”

 

Further, Talley said, “Roger’s been quite the ‘bullhorn’ — through getting the message out” about the Earth Fare restart. Talley also noted that “Roger and I are the two partners in Green Sage” Café chain in Asheville. “So I keep him up with what’s going on. He was devastated” by news of Earth Fare’s bankruptcy and shutdown.” as was Talley.

 

With a laugh, Talley noted that, contrary to some rumors, “Green Sage is not taking over Earth Fare.”

 

Turon added, “Roger was able to speak to everyone about the foundation… It was great.”

 

Turon also praised Selina Delangre, owner of Salina Naturally of Asheville, “because she was working to organize” the rebirth of Earth Fare.

 

When pressed on when exactly the Westgate store will reopen, Turon smilled and said it will “open as early as June — maybe even earlier.”

 

Will the Westgate store be exactly the same as its predecessor?

 

“ We’re spending money on people and merchandise,” Talley replied. “We’re not spending money on fixtures,” noting the emphasis will be on substance over style or appearances.

 

Also, Talley noted that “Earth Fare had changed” on the aspect of being “fair,” as in “the Earth ‘fair’ price on produce — and everything else.” He said the chain was no longer “fair” at the end.

 

Turon added, “Produce will be the most significant change. We want this to be a store of the community — for and by the community.”

 

Talley noted that Rob Everett, “who was produce manager when I and Mike were involved, is coming back. His passion for produce is unparalleled. He has 30 years’ experience.” 

 

Further, Talley said, “Our goal will be to offer the best produce in town. Our focus will be organic and local — also, to have the greatest selection of produce and excellent prices.”

 

Returning to the topic of the South Asheville store, Turon said, “There is a chance” that some other location in the area could be found. “South Asheville — we’re not closed to it... Earth Fare should go where there’s a need.”

 

Talley added, “Our original gameplan of (the new) Earth Fare” was to open stores where “only where people asked us to come to small towns — Boone, Johnson City (Tenn.)….” He expressed much regret that Earth Fare was unable to reopen the Johnson City store, as it was successful.

 

“We tried — and Johnson City was my biggest disappointment” in the Earth Fare restart to date. “It was liquidated before we could express our strong interest in it. It was a greatly run store with great community support and an excellent team. We would have been hiring staff that was there before.”

 

Nevertheless, he said, “We need to expand in a sustainable fashion and sustain our growth, so that Earth Fare” can be successful.”

 

While the company has five locations that is could announce on March 30, Talley stressed, “We’re finalizing other locations” and there will be more announcements.

 

He also said, “The stores we’re most interested in still have their equipment in them. We were prepared to bid for South Asheville, but Whole Foods outbid us by a mile. So our focus is to go for stores that are still equipped.”

 

Turon also said, “I joined Earth Fare last May .... I relocated to Asheville and took this opportunity because, to me, it was a dream come true,” along with her “personal passion for natural and organic, too. Conscious living and eating leads to better overall wellness and balance.” She said she intends to channel her passions into her job leading the restarted company. 

 

Talley asserted, “One of the objectives of our group was to bid on the brand name. We fought for the brand name” and got it. “There’s (even) a Westgate page.” 

 

Further, he said, “Along wth Dennis, I’ve been leading the charge to reach out to potential investors. We are interested in community investors. They can reach me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . We’re trying to raise a sizable amount of money. Dennis has done a heavy lift,” but others need to pitch in, too.

 

As for future store growth, Turon said, “We don’t have a numeric goal. Our goal is to go where we’re needed in existing boxes. In a sustainable” way.

 

With a grin, Talley added, “It’s not a good idea to put a grocery store in a place where it might work.” Instead, he said, a store should be opened only “where it will work.”

 

As for Earth Fare’s legacy, he said,
“Earth Fare made Asheville a liveable, healthy community… Because of Earth Fair, they (many who moved here) felt they could make Asheville their home. Later it became an institution. For thousands of employees, it became a healthy lifestyle business. Our team members loved the mission of the business. They had a lot of passion for it. Not just for the customers, but for the greater community. It’s part of Asheville’s identity.”

 

Turon added, “Westgate has been a cultural hub of the community… It gave life to many local businesses — from a vendor standpoint from growing plants and producing what we sold. It many ways it helped to build the community and what it is.”

 

Hulsing, who called in during the interview, told the Daily Planet, “Personally, I’ve lived my majority of my time for the past 20-1/2 years in Asheville and I still have a home there — between (homes in) Kansas City and Asheville, I know how passionate the community is for Earth Fare... how it provides jobs, health foods.... Given that ‘you are what you eat,’ and what it provides to the economy for jobs,” it seemed clear he should invest.

 

“I have a corporate office in Asheville and it seemed like a natural fit. What happened when the stores closed down it reiterated what I knew. It seemed like something to look into ... and start it back up.

 

“When I met up with Randy, Bethany and Mike, it seemed like a natural fit. I was one of the people who loved the brand. That’s where I’d shop” in Asheville. “I’d go to Earth Fare and pick up” the foods he loved.

 

“I believe whatever we do, we need to do right. The racquet clubs I own, the Crowne Plaza Resort, you take it and do the best you can with what you have. So we’re reopening a good amount of stores — day one. First couple of years, it will be getting our feet under us, getting connected and what we’re known for— where family and friends meet. And once we’re stabilized, we’re not looking for dramatic growth. Previously (at the defunct Earth Fare), it was to grow for the sake of growth. After that, it would be to strategically grow — controlled growth where we’re able to ... Earth Fare, especially, the early days ... built up a great culture. We’re thrilled to” be part of restarting that experience... It’s just as exciting for each of us, as it is for everybody.”

 

After the Hulsing interview ended, Turon concluded by asserting, “I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed being part of the Asheville community. It pained me to leave” after the bankruptcy and shutdown.  “I have two young daughters. I’ll (now) be able to stay and raise them here. I think the community and the culture is one of the healthiest that I’ve encountered.”




 



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