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Fresh idea for fresh food

Businessman looks to convert church to market, café

A David-versus-Goliath scenario could play out on Fort Wayne’s north side as a local businessman looks to open a $2.5 million specialty grocery near Kroger Marketplace.

Brian Hench has a purchase agreement to convert Union Chapel Church, 12628 Coldwater Road, into a market that will specialize in fresh produce, meats and baked goods. He plans to file paperwork with the Allen County Department of Planning Services this week.

In an email Monday, church Pastor Gary Reiber confirmed the congregation is seeking a new location.

Hench is seeking rezoning and primary design approvals from the Fort Wayne Plan Commission.

“We know what we’re up against,” the Huntertown resident said. “My family owns the Chief Supermarkets chain in Defiance, Ohio, so I understand what it’s like to compete against Wal-Mart and Kroger, which is a very well-run grocery. I know I’m taking on the big boys, but I think there’s room for a niche.”

Hench’s operation will be a mile or so north of Kroger Marketplace, the $12.5 million store that the Cincinnati chain opened in the fall of 2011 at 601 E. Dupont Road.

The store spans more than 125,000 square feet and besides groceries has a Fred Meyer Jewelers and sells toys and furniture. The outlet also has a WiFi café with flat-screen televisions.

But Hench says he has the pedigree to make it. Established in 1951, Chief Supermarkets was one of the first modern grocery stores at the time.

The company was dubbed “chief” because its founders desired the store to be a community leader. The company has 11 locations in northwest and west-central Ohio.

“I used to work for the family business,” Hench said. “I was in charge of the fresh foods department.”

It was there Hench began crafting an idea for a sort of mini-Fresh Market. He hopes to open his store by next summer with 20 employees, but that number could grow to 35. An in-store, 40-seat café with outdoor space also is on tap for the 10,000-square-foot space.

“There are a lot of people that work at Parkview Hospital who after a long, hard day may want a prepared meal,” Hench said. “We’ll have upscale roasts, (gourmet) sandwiches and salads. We not only want to sell healthy food, but we want to teach people about it.”

The grocery will be called teds market, after Hench’s grandfather who helped found the Ohio food chain.

“The letters are all lowercase because we want it to represent a casual atmosphere,” Hench said.

“We don’t use an apostrophe because we want the market to belong to our customers.”