Reopening Thursday

Reopening Thursday

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URBANA — The Strawberry Fields natural and organic food store will reopen Thursday under new ownership — with many of the employees who worked there before.

Destiny Nelson, in the pastry department, said she is eager to see old customers again.

"We missed them so much," she said. "We're glad to be back and serving Urbana again."

The store, on the west side of downtown Urbana at 306 W. Springfield Ave., will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

New owner Mohammad Al-Heeti, who continues to operate the World Harvest international food store in Champaign, purchased Strawberry Fields from Paul Dohme.

The store closed last December, and Al-Heeti said he initially hoped to reopen it by the end of April.

"We could either open right away or take time to fix the place," he said. He opted for major remodeling, upgrading the building, buying mostly new equipment and opening up the interior for a new look.

The new store includes a cafe on the south end and a bakery on the north. The cafe will serve hot food from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m., and will have "grab-and-go" food available other hours, for consumption in the cafe or carry-out.

"As of now, we have hired 25 people, most of them full-time," Al-Heeti said. That includes about 10 who worked at the old Strawberry Fields, he said. Among them is former manager Jack Wallace, who now focuses on vitamins and body care products.

"He really has been a good help and support," Al-Heeti said.

To accommodate longer aisles and a larger array of products, Al-Heeti converted former office space to floor space, taking down partitions. He also moved the cash registers closer to the front windows.

The frozen foods section has been expanded, and the cheese and deli department will add a number of locally made products. Strawberry Fields will sell the full line of products — including goat's milk gelato — from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, and will also sell cheese from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Fithian, Old Heritage Creamery near Arcola and Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal.

Shoppers can also find toffee made by A Toffee Tale in Urbana; soap from Urbana-based Soap by Felice; and honey from Sasse's Apiary in Chestnut.

Plus, Sarah Heller, who operates Sugar by Sarah, will bring her business in-house, making macarons (French sandwich cookies), decorated cakes and cookies in the pastry department.

The bakery will bake three or four different kinds of bread at the outset, then add products over time, Al-Heeti said. Nelson, who is working with Diamond Deckman in the pastry department, said they'll continue to make vegan pastries, brownies, muffins, cookies and cupcakes and will add new items.

"We have a lot more space and a lot more ingredients," Deckman said.

Alaa ("Ali") Al-Shook will be the chef for the cafe. He will have a fixed menu available every day, plus different dishes day to day, Al-Heeti said. Customers can get meat dishes, vegetarian dishes and vegan dishes there, and all meats served will be "halal," adhering to Islamic dietary practice.

The cafe will include a coffee bar that, according to employee Clayton Deering, will serve "mostly traditional drinks, but we'll do them well." Among the offerings will be espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiato, as well as homemade chai and hot and iced teas.

Al-Heeti said Strawberry Fields will sell organic produce and lots of foods and spices in bulk. It won't sell meat in its grocery right away, but plans to add it in the future.

Reopening the store has required "a lot of work and money," Al-Heeti said, crediting his bankers, architects, the city of Urbana and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District for their help.

"Overall, I'm very happy to take over this project. It seems a good contribution to the community," he said. "We hope the community is behind us, and we hope to live up to expectations."

Al-Heeti said there will likely be mistakes or shortcomings at the outset, but he hopes customers will be patient "until we make it almost perfect."

He said he plans to be on site for the initial weeks of Strawberry Fields, but will eventually return to World Harvest.

"I don't want to leave World Harvest. My heart will stay there," he said.

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annabellissimo wrote on July 07, 2015 at 8:07 pm

This is good and happy news in town, and boy, do we need that! Mohammed Al-Heeti is such a nice man and World Harvest is a very popular business, as was Strawberry Fields, so it looks like a match made for excellence. Looking forward to it. As a Common Grounds member and shopper, a World Harvest shopper and a Strawberry Fields shopper, I hope I am an example of how all three can co-exist in great prosperity - because I love 'em all! Champaign-Urbana is very fortunate to have all three. Great success to Strawberry Fields!