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Posh Kash n' Karry packs an exotic surprise

I'm a Publix shopper.

So when I heard that Kash n' Karry was closing 34 stores, I gave the story little more than a passing glance.

I had visited their Land O'Lakes store once. It was okay, nothing special. Our story called the grocery chain middle-of-the-road. Times business columnist Robert Trigaux compared the brand to an aging Chevy. In fairness to the Land O'Lakes store, corporate representatives say it's an older model; it opened in 1986.

But a conversation with a colleague in our Tampa bureau left me intrigued. He lives in Odessa and sometimes drives all the way to Wesley Chapel to grocery shop.

Why? Japanese beer, he said. The Kash n' Karry in Wesley Chapel carries it. He raved about the store's selection and the building's round design.

I had to see for myself.

My apologies to my favorite Publix cashier, Susan, who greets me by name and whose smile has smoothed over many a rough day. I felt like I almost was cheating on her.

What I saw at the Kash n' Karry on State Road 54 just west of Interstate 75 caught me by surprise.

The front wall is almost entirely glass, with dividers that make it look like window panes. Smaller windows that resemble skylights line the top of the round shaped wall and allow sunlight to stream in.

Just inside and to the right is a suggestion box atop a round table with a linen tablecloth.

More round, cloth-covered tables with flowers sit in front of the bakery and deli areas. The store's circular design gives shoppers a panoramic view of the offerings on the aisles. Parts of the floor are hardwood.

But the store's most noticeable feature is its produce. Vegetables and fruits, some of them exotic, fill rows of baskets. You can even buy sugar cane by the stalk. Kash n' Karry spokeswoman Camille Branch-Turley told me some people break off pieces, peel it and chew the inside as gum.

There are 15 varieties of mild and hot peppers.

"It's all about the food," said Branch-Turley, who says the chain focuses primarily on perishables and unique foods.

"It's not enough to be able to get an apple here," she said. "You can get an apple, and it's going to taste great."

They also cater to the Atkins crowd, with signs that flag low-carb foods. Spaghetti lovers need not deprive themselves. Part of a shelf is devoted to low-carb pasta.

Branch-Turley admits her weakness is the store's British chocolate bars. The chocolate company's recipes are different for European customers.

Not being a beer fan like my Tampa colleague, I figured the international chocolates were more my speed.

You can get a Mars bar from Ireland. It's pretty much the same as a Milky Way, though. I was intrigued by the Yorkie, a Nestle product with a red circle and slash through a picture of a woman and the slogan "It's Not for Girls."

Maybe Nestle is using reverse psychology to capture the English feminist market; anyway, it worked, I bought a bar to share with the mostly all-male office. The candy was a thick slab of solid milk chocolate; given women's reputations for chocolate cravings, definitely for girls.

Customers I talked to at the store said convenience drives their grocery shopping habits.

Homemaker Pam Teeling likes the fact that it's close to where she lives in Lexington Oaks.

"It's right around the corner," she said. Teeling said she saves more money here with a customer savings card than she does at Publix.

But for all the exotic offerings, something is missing.

"They don't carry sugar-free vanilla Jell-O pudding," Teeling said. She goes to Publix for that. She has spoken to the Kash n' Karry manager, though, and he said the store would try to stock it.

That's the beauty of living here in central Pasco. Everyone's vying for a share of our above-average household incomes, from home builders to banks, drug stores, supermarkets, even newspapers. And they'll do almost anything to get it.

Even stock raw sugar cane.

I'm glad Publix, Kash n' Karry and other supermarkets are competing. Now . . . if only I could find that South Carolina mustard-based barbecue sauce.

_ Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is