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By Nona Tepper
After months of preparation, Living Fresh Market has scheduled its grand, ribbon-cutting opening for May 16, with a soft opening planned for May 8.
Co-owner Dan Casaccio said staff has been working until midnight every night to get the new store in order, putting up shelves, stocking items, painting the ceiling and more. He said the soft opening is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on May 8, and will be open every day during those hours until May 16, when Living Fresh will celebrate its grand opening at 10 a.m. Fourteen vendors will serve up products for customers to try during the grand opening, Casaccio said, adding that he is still planning for the big event. The soft opening is intended to help employees work out the kinks of running a new store and practice interacting with customers.
"There is a lot of hard work in this, trying to make this look warm and not like a warehouse," he said.
In constructing the new store at 7520 W. Roosevelt Rd., Casaccio said he spent about three months researching what brands to carry and how many items could fit on the shelves. He said he stocks items from more than 400 vendors—including many Chicago area brands like Home Run Inn, Iltaco Foods and Parker House Sausage Company—as well as those from across the world, from Chile to China, Italy to India. He said Living Fresh also offers items that are organic and gluten-free.
"What makes us different from Ultra and other stores is that we have every nationality represented," he said.
For the past four months, he and staff have been setting up the store. He said about 90 percent of his 100 person staff is from the area, with a few hired from the old Ultra Foods Living Fresh replaced. Ultra Foods closed in June 2017 after parent company Strack & Van Til went bankrupt. The mall is owned by Forest Park Plaza LLC, a for-profit entity of Living Word Christian Center. Living Fresh has entered a lease with Forest Park Plaza LLC that stretches about 40 years.
After buying the 70,211 square-foot place, Living Fresh started construction in January and Casaccio set to painting the store. He shot more than 1,600 gallons of charcoal paint at the ceiling to replace the old white color. He also took out three shelves from Ultra, ensuring aisles are wide enough for more than two carts to pass through, and so that Living Fresh would have room for a coffee bar, prepared food section, sandwich-making and grilling station, juice bar and soup and salad space.
"If you like the fish, we'll cook it," he said, adding that customers can buy fresh fish from the market and that Living Fresh employees will grill it on the spot.
After the grand opening, Living Fresh will offer every customer a free cup of coffee for two weeks. Casaccio's also brought in an outside pastry specialist to make sure the store is stocked with cakes for Mother's Day on May 13, which will cost $8.99 each. The store will only serve beer and wine—no hard alcohol—and plans to set up wine tastings once it opens. After the store operations settle in, Casaccio said Living Fresh will also offer home delivery.
Living Fresh is owned by brothers Dan and Ken Casaccio, third-generation grocers who also own Leamington Foods, a chain of three grocery stores in Hillside and on Chicago's West Side. Living Fresh is managed by GCC LLC, an entity separate from Leamington, which is managed under Leamington Foods Inc.
In March, the Forest Park Village Council voted unanimously to give GCC LLC up to $450,000 to facilitate the leasing, remodeling and operation of Living Fresh in the Forest Park shopping center. The money will come from the Roosevelt Corridor Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, which stretches from Harlem Avenue to Desplaines Avenue.
"I have a vision of what the future of grocery stores will be," Casaccio said. "More cooking, more prepared meals, salad bars, everything."