By Nona Tepper
There's a new grocery store coming to town and its name is Living Fresh Market, named after its plan to feature about 250 varieties of apples, oranges and other produce. The store will be the eastern anchor for the Forest Park Plaza shopping center, replacing Ultra Foods, which closed last year.
"We're going to do our very best to fight for Forest Park folks to shop at the location," said co-owner Ken Casaccio. "We want to make it as inviting as we possibly can for them, offer different services they've never had before here."
Living Fresh is owned by the four Casaccio brothers -- Ken, Daniel, Terry and Timothy John -- third-generation grocers who also own Leamington Foods, a chain of three grocery stores in Hillside and Chicago's West Side.
Ken Casaccio said Living Fresh is managed by GCC LLC an entity that's separate from Leamington, which is managed under Leamington Foods Inc.
Leamington Foods has endured its share of criticism. Last summer, residents on Chicago's West Side complained about the location on Roosevelt Road near Homan Avenue during a community meeting, according to the Austin Weekly News, demanding better service and products. The stores also have garnered poor reviews online.
Casaccio emphasized that the two companies are run independently.
"It has nothing to do with the other; it's a separate venture all by itself," Casaccio said of Living Fresh.
"Customers are demanding more, and our stores that we have are a little on the smaller side," he added. "Those locations are not physically able to have multiple departments. This store does."
Living Fresh will occupy 70,200 square feet and in addition to groceries will offer a bakery, butcher, soup and salad bar, and hot foods section, where workers prepare fresh sandwiches, Casaccio said.
The grocery store will also offer an international aisle with Hispanic, Italian, German and Chinese items. About 90 employees will work at Living Fresh, said Gus Casaccio, president of Leamington Foods.
Construction on Living Fresh started in January, and the store is set to open in early April. The store replaces the old Ultra Foods in Forest Park Plaza, which closed in June 2017 after parent company Strack and Van Til went bankrupt.
Casaccio grew up in Oak Park and said he regularly goes to lunch along Madison Street in Forest Park, after attending to business at Leamington Foods on Chicago's West Side.
When Casaccio heard the Ultra at 7520 W. Roosevelt Rd. was closing, he said he immediately contacted the mall's owner and the village about leasing the space. The mall is owned by Forest Park Plaza LLC, a for-profit entity of Living Word Christian Center.
Strack and Van Til and the banks were about to place items from the old Ultra for auction in bankruptcy court. The village, church and real estate company NAI Hiffman stopped the auction two days before it was set to take place in July 2017.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said he believes Living Fresh purchased all the old items from Ultra.
"Once the auction happened it would have all been over with. Once they damaged and take the equipment out in such a rough fashion, it's hard to replace," Casaccio said. "It would have been impossible to go back in."
Living Fresh signed a lease that spans for about 40 years for the space, Casaccio said. He declined to disclose the terms of the lease.
Gillian said the village is currently working on a redevelopment agreement with Living Fresh. He said Living Fresh will be eligible to receive funding from the Roosevelt Road Tax Increment Financing District.
Because the village is still hammering out the redevelopment agreement, Gillian said he was not sure the exact amount of funds that would benefit the new Living Fresh, but that disbursement will depend on whether Living Fresh meets set sales targets.
Gillian said he unsure of how much sales tax revenue Living Fresh will generate for the village. In 2016, Ultra handed $130,000 in sales tax revenue to Forest Park.
"When Ultra announced they were leaving, it certainly was a concern for the village how we would get that space occupied, because obviously the sales tax revenue is important to us," Gillian said. "We were very fortunate at about the same time Leamington … happened to be looking for space at the same time. It was a great coincidence."