Specialty grocer Mrs. Green’s to open at shuttered Fox & Obel site

BY SANDRA GUY Staff Reporter

November 15, 2013 7:44PM

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Updated: December 17, 2013 6:19AM

Specialty grocer Mrs. Green’s Natural Market has signed a lease to take over the shuttered Fox & Obel site at 401 E. Illinois St. in River East Plaza, an executive with Mrs. Green’s owner said Friday.

The earliest opening would be three to four months away because all of the equipment in the shuttered store has been auctioned, said Shige Hatanaka, senior vice president of operations at Mrs. Green’s owner, Natural Markets Food Group, based in Irvington, N.Y.

Mrs. Green’s opened its first store locally and in the Midwest on Thursday at the former Lincoln Park Hospital garage site at Lincoln Avenue and Webster Street.

The goal is to open six Mrs. Green’s stores soon in the Chicago area, and more in the long term, Hatanaka said. The company has identified four more sites but has yet to sign leases, he said.

“Having two certainly gives us a foothold to now expand,” he said. “We would love to have as many stores as we can and as soon as we can.”

Mrs. Green’s stores sell organic and natural foods with no artificial colorings or preservatives, Hatanaka said. The stores seat about 40 so people can eat freshly prepared foods. Inside the stores, shoppers can buy ready-to-eat tacos, burritos, gourmet pizzas, hamburgers, fried and rotisserie chicken and deli sandwiches such as turkey, pastrami and corned beef.

Mrs. Green’s describes itself on its website as a neighborhood store, “passionately committed to clean, natural foods” and “devoted to customers who care deeply about the foods they eat.”

The Fox & Obel gourmet grocery closed on Oct. 6 after failing health inspections, filing for bankruptcy and becoming enmeshed in a lawsuit alleging the leader of an investment group that owned the store diverted money into his restaurant holdings — a claim the investor denies.

The 22,000-square-foot Fox & Obel opened in July 2001 as an upscale destination with prime meat, freshly baked bread and chef-prepared meals. The founders, one-time Yale Law School classmates Ari Fox and Ken Obel, left the venture in 2003, and new owners never capitalized on a plan to expand.

Mrs. Green’s advertises deals on its website for Greek yogurt, health supplements, coconut water and organic free-range turkey.

It operates one store in Canada and 12 stores in Connecticut, New York and in the Washington, D.C., area, and posts on its website plans to open nine more stores soon in its existing East Coast markets.

Email: sguy@suntimes.com

Twitter: @sandraguy

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