Downtown market going just grand

July 9, 2012
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Sales at the Grand Central Market and Deli have grown nicely over the past two years since it became a family-owned and operated business.

Christina Klunder and her parents, Tom and Cheryl Powell, took possession of the store in March 2010 and held their grand opening the following July. Since then, they’ve been able to add their combined experiences in the culinary and retail industries to the long hours they’ve put into the market at 57 Monroe Center and have created a viable operation with a bright future.

“We’ve seen the business grow for the first two years we have been here, and it’s showing an upward trend. We’re increasing our grocery sales, the deli is doing quite well, and we’re also picking up more catering,” said Tom Powell. “We also deliver items that can be ordered from our catering menu on our website.”

Cheryl Powell said the Grand Central Market has done a lot of catering for downtown businesses, events held in the district, weddings and Christmas parties. “Last month, I had the busiest catering month we’ve had since we bought the place. It ran the gamut; it was a little bit of everything,” she said.

Sandwiches are the market’s biggest selling items, with the most noteworthy being the one called 57 Monroe. Tom Powell called it their signature sandwich and said it captured second place in the official Grandwich 2011 judging, but was the public’s top choice last year.

The sandwich features locally produced items like cheese, smoked turkey, tomato, onion, fresh chevre and mixed greens topped with the house vinaigrette and stuffed between two slices of organic, roasted-red-pepper focaccia bread.

Other turkey-based sandwiches include clubs and Reubens. Chicken, ham, roast beef, corned beef and pastrami make up the other sandwich choices. The deli also features breakfast sandwiches, wraps and soups. The grocery has fresh fruit and produce, cheeses, meats, snacks, boxed goods and wines. Delivery is free throughout the downtown district.

Hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. The market is closed Sundays, but stays open until about 9 p.m. on Wednesdays during the summer when Citadel Broadcasting hosts Blues on The Mall.

Klunder is hardly a newcomer to the Grand Central Market. She worked there and managed the market before she became a co-owner. Jason and Ryan Wheeler, sons of developer John Wheeler, and Andy Armstrong opened the business in December 2005. While she worked closely with them, she was able to pick up some valuable insights into the store’s operations.

“In the beginning when I started here, it was a part-time job while I was going to school. But I was going to school for a business and fashion-merchandising degree with the intention of someday owning my own store, and not necessarily a grocery market and deli. Then an opportunity came up with Jason, Ryan and Andy, who all had very busy lives on top of the market, and they really wanted someone to buy it,” she said.

“They also wanted someone who knew what they were doing, who had experience and wasn’t a stranger to the community. I had been here for about four years at that time and had gotten to know a lot of the customers. Then I approached my parents,” she added.

Cheryl Powell has been a chef for much of her career, most recently at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. She also has put menus together for the Grist Mill, which is part of the Honey Creek Inn, and the Public Museum.

Tom Powell has been in the restaurant business since he and a few partners opened their first one in 1977. Next, his crew opened the Shire House in Rockford, and then transferred that business’ liquor license and their attention toward starting a new restaurant they called Gibson’s.

“That’s where I met Cheryl. She was our pastry chef at the time,” he said.

Robert Gibbs of the Gibbs Planning Group, who was hired by the Downtown Development Authority to analyze the retail presence in the district, visited Grand Central Market as part of the free personal consultations he held with business owners. Klunder and the Powells were impressed by what he told them.

“I thought it was very valuable information. We did a little catering for his conference on that Monday. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him there, but I did get a chance to talk to a couple of his colleagues then. But he spoke to us about making just a few changes that he felt would help us,” said Cheryl Powell.

Gibbs suggested slight alterations to the storefront such as making a color change. “We’re constantly evolving and changing and moving stuff around, and we’re going to work on that. He seemed to know what he was talking about,” she added.

Tom Powell said Gibbs was very positive in the way he suggested potential changes. He felt that Gibbs’ advice would make customers more aware of the store’s products, make the atmosphere more comfortable and the entryway more inviting. “He really got right to the point. He was much appreciated,” he said.

Klunder said she really enjoyed listening to Gibbs and was pleased that he didn’t have anything remotely negative to say about the market. “He just gave us a few changes that would set us apart from all the other businesses here, and even more so than we already are. It was really interesting to have him come in here. He has a very objective eye and had lots of good things to say,” she said.

The Powells and Klunder enjoy what they do and are happy to be where they are, which is at the eastern edge of what many call downtown’s Main Street. “We plan on being here forever,” said Klunder, “so people better come and check us out.”

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