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Food store plans shift to the home market

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Rollin' Oats, the natural foods store on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Street N, is about to start an expansion and renovation that will take several months and change how the store offers its cafe meals.

The cafe will remain in the $750,000 makeover project that will take in the building next to Rollin' Oats. But most or maybe all of the seating in the current eating space will be removed.

Owners want the deli to be more of a grab-and-go place at the 2842 Dr. M.L. King Jr. St. N store.

"We will put more emphasis on home-meal replacement. You will still be able to get sandwiches to soups. We just won't focus on seating," said John Rorer, vice president and one of three owners of the company that includes Rollin' Oats. Bert Swain is president, and Larry Schwartz is secretary/treasurer.

They want to offer what they call quality meals that can be taken home and eaten with little preparation.

Removing the area where patrons might linger over a meal will help the company with its parking lot, which can be difficult to maneuver in. With customers no longer staying in the spaces for an hour or more, spaces will cycle faster. Also, spaces will be added in the back where a tool shed and a cooler will be removed. Then, the half dozen or so spaces against the south side of the building will be removed and replaced by only a couple of parking spaces.

That will cut the concentration of cars at the entrance to the store off Dr. M.L. King Jr. Street N, some trying to pull into the lot and others trying to leave through two lines of parked cars. The total number of parking spaces will be about the same, Rorer said.

"The change to the store operations should relieve" parking problems, he said. "It will be easier to get in and out."

The company has tried to buy property behind the store to add parking but has been unable to at a reasonable price, Rorer said.

He knows there are loyal customers who enjoy eating in the cafe. As a retail proprietor, however, he sees the eating space as too big an area not to be used full time, as it would be if stocked with merchandise.

Rollin' Oats owns the building next door to the store that Rorer said used to be a typewriter shop. It now is used as a warehouse for Rollin' Oats. It will be gutted and renovated and then joined to the north side of the existing store.

Rollin' Oats opened in 1994 with 3,000 square feet of space, about half what it has now. The extra space was added in 1996. The store sells bulk natural foods, such as grains and nuts, fresh breads, an entire wall of vitamins, produce and other grocery items from fresh-ground peanut butter to Paul Newman fig bars. The produce section will be enlarged and updated in the renovation.

Rorer said the interior of the store will be changed to lessen the congestion at the front door where the checkout registers now are located. The entrance will be moved to face the south rather than angle toward Dr. M.L. King Jr. N. Traffic flow inside also will be changed for more ease, Rorer said. The building will get a new face as well.

He said he hopes the store will remain open during all of the work. Groundbreaking is scheduled for a month from now if the owners get their permits from the city. Rorer said it probably will be finished in January or February.