Fresh Thyme Markets opening in Naperville, Crystal Lake, Chicago
Tucked between conventional grocery stores and high-end specialty shops is a growing chain of farmers market-style grocers that launched in the suburbs and is opening three more stores next month.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is expanding to Naperville, Crystal Lake and Chicago with grand openings scheduled at 7 a.m. Oct. 14 at each location.
The openings are part of a phase of growth for Fresh Thyme that began when the chain opened its first store in April 2014 in Mount Prospect.
CEO Chris Sherrell said Fresh Thyme's ideal customer is someone who wants to transition to a healthier lifestyle focused on natural and organic products that previously might have seemed too expensive.
"Our biggest emphasis is on fresh and just bringing natural, organic produce and meat at prices of a conventional grocery store," Sherrell said. "For too many years, the natural food industry was geared toward the upper (income) quartile. We've really tried to bring it to the masses."
A large produce section stocked with Midwest products when they're seasonally ripe takes up 25 percent of each Fresh Thyme store. A meat and seafood department that offers custom-cut meats, handmade sausages, and ready-to-cook meat entrees is another highlight.
"Forty percent of our business is meat and produce," Sherrell said. "Those two departments separate us from traditional grocery stores."
Fresh Thyme stores are roughly 30,000 square feet. Sherrell said they're purposely a smaller size to help with efficiency while still providing dairy and grocery items, a deli, a bakery, bulk foods, vitamins, supplements, beer and wine.
When each new store opens at 7 a.m. Oct. 14, the first 250 customers will get a grocery bag stocked with $50 to $70 worth of food. Sherrell said lines begin forming as early as midnight, turning to large crowds in the hundreds by 5 or 6 a.m.
The Naperville Fresh Thyme will open at 790 Royal St. George Drive; the Crystal Lake store will open at 5340 Northwest Highway; and the Chicago location is at 2500 N. Elston Ave.
The new stores also will host preview parties the evening before the grand openings. At the Chicago store, TV personality Giuliana Rancic will appear for a "pink carpet" event from 5 to 5:45 p.m. to meet and greet customers during a wine and food sampling gala for invited guests.
Fresh Thyme will donate between $40,000 and $50,000 in October, which is breast cancer awareness month, to FAB-U-WISH, an initiative Rancic established as a breast cancer survivor to help women undergoing treatment feel fabulous.
The new Fresh Thyme stores are in addition to others in Deerfield, Downers Grove, Joliet and Fairview Heights. The chain also includes locations in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio.