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)Connect with El Cerrito Patch on Facebook and Twitter, and never miss a headline with our daily newsletter.