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Natural Grocery Company's Prepared Food Annex, Ripe and Ready to Open

The long-awaited opening is scheduled for the middle of next month.

El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company Prepared Foods Annex is set to open in February, according to staff.
El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company Prepared Foods Annex is set to open in February, according to staff.

Staff ripped off the brown paper lining the Prepared Food Annex's windows today, giving passersby a glimpse of what's to come in the next month.

The Annex, part of El Cerrito's Natural Grocery Company next door, is a cafe and food-service counter with a variety of natural meals and snacks that can be eaten on the premises or picked up to go.

After a year-long delay in opening, communication director Veena Patel said the Prepared Foods Annex will see its first customers around February 11. 

A sneak peak inside on Tuesday afternoon showed a bustling scene of staff setting up their respective departments: Espresso machines steaming, cheese wheels on display and a lavishly large wine and beer case waiting to be filled. The florist said she's even placed her order for Valentine's Day, a sure sign that by next month, the shop will be busy with customers and events from wine tasting to cooking classes.

The cause of the delay in opening remains cloudy. Patel said some of it had to do with PG&E electrical problems. "But there's no pointing fingers," she said, adding "it was well worth the wait."

A lot of renovation and seismic work also needed to be done to the space, which was formerly a Sherwin-Williams paint store. Now that there are over 30 new parking spaces, in addition to designated, hour-long parking spots on the street, training new employees is a priority.

"We made some awesome hirers," Patel said. From a well-known sommelier in the local wine industry to a knowledgable cheesemonger, over 60 staff will be running this employee-owned store. And they're still looking to add more people to their team (more info below). 

General manager and founder Bob Grener was around Tuesday afternoon to see how things were coming along. Grener, an El Cerrito native who grew up just two blocks away, recalled when the Prepared Foods Annex was a drug store back in the 50s. The same counter where he used to curl up with a banana split is now where cardamom lattes and other cafe goods will be served.

"It can't come fast enough," Grener said about the opening. "I'm thrilled to finally see it opening."

The Natural Grocery Company has been in El Cerrito since 1988. It has an older-sister branch on Gilman Street in Berkeley. Grener said he signed a  20 year building lease with the city as a way of ensuring the Annex remains a staple of the community, which was also vital in his reason for selling it to employees.

"I want to make sure this goes on after I'm gone," he said. "Employees are what make this a sustainable and integral part of the community."

Stay tuned for more information in the next couple of weeks about opening day and events.

In the meantime, El Cerrito Natural Grocery is still hiring and seeking talented applicants for:
General Manager, Barista, Wine and Beer Clerk, Cheesemonger, Cheese Clerk, Florist, Floral Clerk, Dishwashers, Deli Manager, Deli Clerk, Floor Supervisor, Routisserie Cook, Baker, Pizza Lead, and Prep Cook

To apply, please email Jermaine at Jermaine@naturalgrocery.com with a resume and cover letter (if applicable)

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Toby January 30, 2014 at 01:35 AM
Hmm...they're opening in a couple of weeks, and are still looking for a GM and Deli Manager? Seems a little worrisome, but fingers crossed; if/when it opens, it looks like it will be great. Thanks for the story, Nicole! And re: Kathy's notes above, again, fingers crossed...we don't want to lose you!
Nicole Jones January 30, 2014 at 02:08 AM
Hi everyone, Nicole here. I, along with nearly all my wonderful, hardworking colleagues were laid off this morning. Thanks so much for your kind words, and I wish I could have stuck around. Keep in touch, Nicole contact at nicolejonesreports.com
Nicole Jones January 30, 2014 at 02:12 AM
Also, my apologies. I got a couple of things wrong I this story. Most of the positions like GM and other manager positions have been filled. I would give them a call to see what positions they have left. Also, it's Bob Gerner, not Grener. Sorry about that.
rose stamm January 30, 2014 at 11:56 AM
thank you nicole for your dedication and going the extra mile. you will go far. good luck in all your endeavors. rose
Kathy A. January 30, 2014 at 12:15 PM
Here is a link to a media blog report about the layoffs: http://jimromenesko.com/2014/01/29/hale-global-lays-off-patch-employees/ The comments there are also interesting.

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