Alitura was closed for renovations, but the grocer is poised to reopen on Jan. 10.
On Friday, staff could be seen painting counters, sweeping the floor and deep cleaning the vegetable storage bunkers while Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” played in the background.
The new Niagara-on-the-Lake market, which changed its name from Harvest Barn in 2021, will be going through several phases of renovations over the next two years, manager Ted Stones said.
The first phase is focused on the bakery plus some maintenance and painting. Phase two will be a revamping of the salad bar and phase three will be the (hopeful) introduction of an in-house butcher.
Stone said the owners are “hoping within a two-year timeframe we can get that all done.”
This last week they "did a lot of mechanical maintenance that needed to be done that’s been neglected over the years," he added, but the planned installation of a new bakery counter was put on hold after the contractor tested positive for COVID-19.
He said the counter top will be installed as soon as the contractor is feeling better and done with quarantine.
“We’re going to remove the hodgepodge of displays that are over (at the bakery) and kind of just make a nice beautiful countertop, kind of a talking piece that makes a statement,” Stones said.
There will also be a big bread display. Stones said Alitura is currently producing about 85 per cent of its baked goods in house.
Early 2021, Alitura finished building a wood-burning stone oven outside. It was hardly used this past year but Stones hopes the oven can become a staple of what Alitura has to offer.
“The original idea of that (oven) was to produce all the breads there,” he said.
Breads, pizzas and other baked goods will be produced at the outdoor oven.
“In the summertime we’re looking to do a takeaway program from there and then you could do like a little picnic around the property.”
A lot of what Alitura is changing inside the store right now is meant to streamline the shopping experience for customers, Stones said.
Cluttered areas are being stripped down and self-checkout machines will soon be installed.
Stones said the self-checkouts are being brought in to accommodate NOTL’s work force and ensure lines move efficiently.
“Construction workers say they only have like half an hour for lunch and in busy times there tends to be some deep line-ups,” he said.
“So they’ll be able to by-pass (the lines), do their self-checkout and kind of enjoy the time they have for their lunch.”
Later this spring, COVID depending, Stones hopes work on the salad bar can get underway.
“We’re going to have a hot and cold table rather than just a salad bar with ice on it,” he said.
But the biggest change will be the eventual introduction of an in-house butcher. Stones couldn’t say when or even if getting a butcher will actually happen but felt it would be a boon for the business and its customers
“Fingers crossed, we’re hoping to get a butcher so we can have fresh meats. A butcher in house dealing with the farmers on a first-hand basis,” Stones said.
“I know they have delis at the Independents, but nothing kind of niche, you know, working with the farmers directly.”
“I don’t see it being an unattainable goal. I feel like it’s one of those things we can accomplish.”
Alitura is using all its staff to help out with the renovations where specialized skills aren’t required.
“We didn’t get any contractors in. It’s good for team synergy and everyone’s behind the project. They know that they put their own work and blood, sweat and tears into it. They can feel proud about what they’ve done,” Stones said.
While there is a big picture to Alitura’s future, it all starts with the smaller details so the store can reopen quickly for its customers, Stones said.
“The customer base has been so loyal and we look forward to welcoming them back and them telling their friends about the changes.”
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report