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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Having worked for years in the grocery industry at New Seasons Market in Portland, which offers a mix of conventional and organic products, Shannon Hiller-Webb and her business partner Lisa Sedlar took their expertise and started a convenience store business focused on "healthy convenience," but with features one would find at a grocer.
"We offer some standards you would find in a grocery store, but in a smaller format," said Hiller-Web. "With the concept of healthy convenience, we say there is only room for the good stuff. We have a meat and seafood counter, and a cheese department, which is unexpected at a c-store, and an organic produce section."
The first Green Zebra Grocery opened Oct. 8, and the owners have two other stores planned for next year. The flagship store is 5,000 square feet and in a Portland community known as Kenton.
The owners chose the unique name to reflect their concept and also relate to the area. "Green Zebra is a variety of tomatoes developed in Oregon and that resonated with us because it was small, flavorful and grew in the Northwest," Hiller-Web told CSNews Online.
The design goal was to create a fresh and clean environment to engage people in the space, and allow them to get in and out quickly. KRS Retail Solutions worked with the owners on the interior design and navigation of the store, she said, explaining that they also wanted to reflect the feel of the community and neighborhood, and will do the same with their other stores.
"It's a 'throwback' to classic neighborhood stores, but with the very distinct flavor of Green Zebra," said Christopher Studach, creative director at KRS. "We also wanted to express the new brand character through the store design and customer experience."
The zebra character is carried through the store using stripes, including colored zebra flags to let customers know what section of the store they are in and help them find the items they need. For example, the deli and salad bar sections feature green-striped flags, the cheese section has yellow stripes and the coffee and pastry bar has brown stripes.
"With zebra in the name and having it as a logo, KRS recommended carrying it through the store," said Hiller-Web. "They took two tones of a gloss and matte-finished tile and created a unique striped pattern that gives the element of striping throughout the walls."
The floor is polished concrete, which allows customers to focus on the products, and there are wood elements throughout as a nod to its Portland location, known for its forests and trees. Also, when they removed the existing drop ceiling, they found six skylights and a vaulted ceiling with wood tresses. This was left exposed to bring in natural light.
"We mostly gutted the store," explained Hiller-Web. "It had been a restaurant, and we needed to take it back to the shell."
In the back of the store, customers find the meat and seafood department, and next to that, the cheese department. Wrapping around the store's perimeter is the deli case and a grab-and-go, self-serve section that includes a hot food station, soup bar and salad bar.
All of the beef, chicken and deli meats are 100-percent grass-fed, and the chicken sold is Mary's Chicken, which is not only humanely raised, but was voted by America's Test Kitchen as the No. 1-tasting chicken in the country, said Hiller-Web.
"These are things you don't see in a typical c-store," she explained. "In the morning, we offer fresh juices, a yogurt bar with Goji berries and chia seeds as toppings, and oatmeal and polenta. We don't offer strictly natural products, but we are looking for ways we can bring health back into our customers' day."
All of the food is made in-house and for lunch and dinner, the store features a Hot Rock section, which Hiller-Web said is the most popular section of the store. The selection changes every day, but eight options are offered daily. The menu includes such items as healthy macaroni and cheese with broccoli, lasagna, shepherd's pie and Indian dishes.
"We worked with a chef to design the menu items and will rotate it seasonally," she said. "We have a group of chefs in the kitchen who come from some of the best places in town."
The store also features a coffee bar with a variety of pastry items, and a walk-up window.
Carrying 13,000 SKUs, the layout of the center store features narrow aisles and taller shelves than often found in a convenience store. While they have been pleased with the height of the shelves, the owners plan to widen the aisles a bit in future stores.
There are many traditional c-store categories such as candy, beer and wine, but healthier varieties can be found on the shelves, too, and the owners chose not to carry lottery or cigarettes because they don't fit into the model of healthy convenience.
The next two stores are also planned for Portland, and with signed lease agreements, they are slated to be built in 2014.