Lesslie Garcia, 28, paused near the fresh lemons, limes and avocados on display Monday at Jubilee Food Market, a new non-profit grocery at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, a project of Mission Waco to create an oasis for the food desert in the surrounding North Waco community.
She was holding her 1-year-old, Jonathan, and watching her other children, 3-year-old Jaylah and 10-year-old Valerie, as she considered a purchase.
Then up walked Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco, who said, “Thank you for coming.”
“She’s one of our neighbors,” said Dorrell to another shopper surveying the scene. He then proceeded to gently tickle the smiling child in Garcia’s arms.
To say Dorrell was excited about the day’s soft opening of his 6,500-square-foot dream would not give the matter justice. It arrives because of more than $500,000 in
monetary donations and free or discounted labor, the prayers of Mission Waco backers and the generosity of more people than Dorrell can count, he said.
A spreading tree painted on an interior wall nearest North 15th Street displays the names of donors shelling out $1,500 to $15,000 on hearts and leaves. Merchandise includes canned goods and necessities such as milk, bread, eggs and luncheon meat, but offerings are not limited to the mundane, as a tour will reveal.
Coca Cola and Blue Bell ice cream have shelf space, and half-gallon containers of Blue Bell are priced at $9 for two. Candies such as Mr. Goodbar, Zero, Payday and Snickers, among others, tempt shoppers near the checkout stands. The freezer section shelters El Charrito frozen dinners, Red Baron and Tony’s pizzas, and TGIFriday’s mozzarella sticks.
Well-known brand names abound, among them Keebler, Kellogg’s, Green Giant, Velveeta, Lipton, Campbell’s, Dinty Moore, Planters and Del Monte. But scattered items carry generally lower prices and labels that have not become common at every household. Examples include Bar S Salami, M.C. Trader Mixed Vegetables and Wylwood Collard Greens.
Monday served as the grocery’s first day of business and featured no ribbon-cutting ceremonies or elaborate displays or speeches.
“But it started out hectic and has remained steady,” said general manager Darrell Wickert, who paused for a chat about 4 p.m. following an 8 a.m. opening.
He said the opening produced a few glitches, as products and prices did not always coincide during the scanning process.
“Our biggest goal now is to get all the prices posted, the signs up and the scanning process working correctly before our grand opening on Dec. 1,” said Wickert, whose work history includes time with Safeway, Minyard Food Stores, Wal-Mart Stores and Dollar General before Dorrell chose him to manage Jubilee Market.
Wickert has hired seven paid employees and also is recruiting volunteers to keep the store operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Jubilee Food Market accepts debit and credit cards, cash and checks and is making arrangements to receive certification to take food stamps. Whether it will ever accept product manufacturer’s coupons is unlikely, Dorrell said, but it will regularly feature in-store discounts.
It also hopes to issue so-called “Oasis” cards to those living in ZIP codes nearest the store, and Dorrell hopes to resolve that issue early in 2017.
“This has been so fun, a euphoric moment to see people come through the door, especially those who had to walk here or ride the bus,” Dorrell said. “We’ve had a good sampling from people next door, up the street and even across town. To see this kind of reaction after 15 months is just an amazing feeling.”
Dorrell said Mission Waco will run an advertisement in Thursday’s Tribune-Herald thanking donors. He said the grand opening Dec. 1 will start at 10 a.m. and include a brief ceremony involving people from the neighborhood and Mayor Pro Tem and District IV Councilman Dillon Meek, “who has been a strong supporter.”
“I think this is a good idea, and I told Jimmy Dorrell that God is going to bless it,” said Suzanne Rivera, 48, who is employed at a nearby assisted-living center. Her basket contained freezer storage bags, an onion, juice, jack cheese and a loaf of bread. She said she will return often to buy small bills of groceries.
“I don’t mind shopping at H-E-B, but after I get off work and take the bus home, I don’t necessarily want to face that crowd,” she said. “This is convenient.”
Shopper Sylvia Bobier, 38, said she and her family moved to North Waco from Portland, Oregon, and she welcomed the opening of Jubilee Market.
“I’m excited about it,” said Bobier, adding she and her husband became intrigued by Waco’s inexpensive housing market by watching Chip and Joanna Gaines on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” reality TV show.
“We visited and loved the weather, the climate, and we decided to make this our home,” she said.
Bobier said the H-E-B at Bosque Boulevard and Wooded Acres Drive will remain her primary source of groceries, but Jubilee represents an attractive option.
Mark Castellano, 43, and his mother, Camila Castellano, 79, were driving by Jubilee Market on Tuesday and couldn’t resist stopping.
They said they love the simplicity of the store, its layout and its proximity to the Mission Waco complex that includes the World Cup Cafe right across 15th Street.
“And we love the Bible verse,” said Camila Castellano, referring to the painted Scripture that reads,“For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things,” which is Psalm 107:9. There are other spiritual references throughout the store, including signs promoting “heavenly deals.”
Wickert predicts the store will generate about $17,000 a week in sales, though others have told him it is underestimating its potential.
“I’ve worked other small-box stores, and that’s a number I’m comfortable with,” he said, adding sales could grow if shoppers citywide travel to North Waco to shop at Jubilee as a gesture to support Mission Waco, which is involved in feeding, clothing, training and finding jobs for Waco’s marginalized.
“Honestly, we’re hoping to break even, though it could be a couple of years before we accomplish that or even make a small profit,” Wickert said.
He said proceeds will pay the bills and keep the market stocked, adding that profits “will go back into Mission Waco.”
As is the case with most groceries, Jubilee inevitably will receive deliveries of flawed goods, such as half a dozen eggs cracked upon arrival.
“We will donate those to the Mission Waco Manna House and Lighthouse 521, which will reduce their food costs,” Wickert said.
Manna House provides Christian-based drug rehabilitation for men, while Lighthouse 521 is a halfway house for those who have completed rehab.