Garden Fresh From Israel to Your Kitchen Table
By all appearances, Garden Fresh Market in Northbrook is a typical North
Shore grocery store. Harried parents push children in strollers for a predinner shop while busy cashiers speed customers through the long lines.
Discerning shoppers who regularly converge at the SUV-lined strip mall
just off the Edens Expressway, however, know what separates this store
from the pack.
A huge selection of hummus, for one, along with a choice of Israeli dairy
products one could easily find on the shelves of Supersol in Jerusalem. In a
word, Garden Fresh is the Israeli food shopping mecca in the Chicagoland
area, a fact not lost on the swarms of customers who visit from as far away
“They have items you can’t get at major grocery chains,” exclaims Yaakov
Pole, a 32-year-old teacher from Buffalo Grove who frequents the store in
search of quality produce and competitively-priced Israeli products. “It’s
an excellent value.”
Garden Fresh founder Adi Mor is one of those rare individuals who truly understands what people want. Arriving in Chicago via Jerusalem in 1980 with no formal business background, he channeled his sabra sechel (sense) and powerful work ethic to grow one of the area’s most successful specialty grocery chains.
“Each one of our seven stores really caters to the particular community that it’s in,” he explains, attributing his niche success to diligence in product selection coupled with unmatched variety. Shelves loaded with Russian pastries and pickled vegetables reflect the Eastern European tastes of the patrons who shop the Wheeling location while Mundelein’s sprawling rows of hot sauces and peppers satisfy its largely Hispanic clientele.
“We go to the market every day to purchase fresh produce and carry twice as many items as a normal supermarket would,” adds Mor, who, as a
young soldier once had an all-night gig on Thursdays preparing challah at the famous Angel Bakery in Jerusalem. More than 30 years later, the
spry 55-year-old manages business affairs along with his 28-year-old son Golan and dozens of others at a modern corporate office and warehouse in Wheeling.
The Northbrook location, featuring its fully staffed “Kosher Korner” deli and massive selection of Israeli-branded items, is decidedly arranged with the Jewish consumer in mind. Mor says that shoppers routinely pour in from as far away as Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana to stock up on the kosher quality meat and other delights that arrive fresh daily.
“Supermarkets realize that kosher can be a huge magnet for a loyal base of consumers who, while looking for kosher products, also shop the rest of the store,” notes Menachem Lubinsky, editor-in-chief of KosherToday.com and founder of Kosherfest, the world’s largest kosher food and beverage trade show.
“Kosher is simply attracting more people because of the very diverse and quality nature of the products, making it much easier for Jews of all shades to buy into the concept.”
Mor recognizes that balancing the kosher element, which comprises 40 percent of the Northbrook store, with the varying demands of the broader community is the key to maximizing overall value.
“Our business is very unique in that we’re open seven days a week and still able to serve the kosher and non-kosher communities,” he says,
acknowledging that fresh produce remains a prominent drawing card at each location.
With Passover looming, the search is on for birthday cake buried deep in the freezer or the errant crouton lost in the couch. And while many people begin their chametz sweep several weeks before the first Seder, Garden Fresh has been preparing to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt since Chanukah in December.
The shift from shelves of leavened luxuries to a sea of matzo and macaroons takes months of careful planning, Mor says, with much of the stock ordered from suppliers in New York, as opposed to Israel, to ensure maximum freshness. During the eight-day holiday, the Kosher Korner is temporarily shuttered and sold to a non-Jew in accordance with Jewish law.
Garden Fresh also takes pride in providing its kosher catering services to local institutions such as Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook,
which coordinates a student lunch program described by Mor as “reasonably priced, healthy and wholesome.”
“We’ve had a great response from parents,” said Julie Smolucha, Garden Fresh’s marketing director. The variety and nutritiousness of the food, she says, allows children “to function better in school.”
Mor enjoys showcasing a plethora of popular Israeli products, from diet grapefruit juice to organic peeled roasted chestnuts in his stores, many of which have found their way onto shelves at the request of customers.
“Some of the big vendors realize that we put them on the map,” he contends. According to Lubinsky, Israeli manufacturers are rapidly becoming more attractive to American buyers buyers as competition for market share widens.
“New products that bring something to the table, forgive the pun, will continue to make it onto supermarket shelves,” he says. “Israel produces
quality products in great packaging, making them very competitive and desirable. Israeli brands have a natural base in the U.S. but they still have to compete on quality and price.”
That’s certainly good news for Garden Fresh, reflecting Mor’s vision of providing Chicagoland consumers with their favorite fare at a great value.
“We give the customer what they want,” he maintains. “We cater to the neighborhood.”