Posted April 11, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Foodieland in the works

The Wizard Of Odd
Wackiness is grocer Jim Bonaminio’s calling card. Will he keep Wal-Mart at bay?

Now, anyone that wants to take on the retail giant that is Walmart deserves a standing ovation. When that someone wants to create a “Foodieland” store, he deserves a medal.

The looming prospect of being sandwiched between two Wal-Mart Supercenters about 10 miles apart has roused Bonaminio to bold action. He is risking much of the profit he has accumulated on a $10 million project to transform his store into a retail campus he calls “Foodieland.” And on Apr. 1, Bonaminio signed a letter of intent to open a second store. The 75,000 sq. ft. supermarket — tentatively named Baby Jungle — will be a 30-minute drive from the Fairfield store, moving Bonaminio close to the heart of Cincinnati.

Jungle Jim’s has prospered to date not because of its location but despite it, in defiance of the first rule of retailing. The store is four miles from the nearest major highway, and a long stretch of traffic hell separates it from Cincinnati proper. Even so, Bonaminio never seriously considered relocating even as his business began to expand.

His store is an amalgam of a dozen buildings constructed one after the other and joined together under one very complicated roof. Built largely of recycled materials, Jungle Jim’s is filled with novel design touches that Bonaminio delights in showing off: the antique fire engine resting atop a case holding 1,200 kinds of hot sauce; the mint-condition 1919 Boar’s Head truck in the deli section; the faux Portopotty doors that open into spacious bathrooms; and on and on.

Bonaminio put his Foodieland plan in motion a few years ago, and it is about half realized. Next to the store he recently built a two-story “events center” for tastings, televised cooking demonstrations, and food and wine festivals. Within the new building is a large space that Bonaminio hopes to let to a restaurant operator. He’s also looking to lure a hotel chain to his 71-acre property. “There are golf destinations all over America where you fly in and spend the weekend,” Bonaminio says. “That’s what I’m trying to do with Foodieland — create a campus with things for foodies to do when they’re not shopping the store.”

Even as Bonaminio hopes to create a more tempting destination for gourmet and ethnic shoppers, he also is trying to make Jungle Jim’s the kind of place where locals will stop in to buy a loaf of bread on their way home from work. Recently he moved his vast beer and wine selection from the front of the store into a new wing. This in turn freed the prime space in the store’s center to be remodeled into what is essentially a conventional supermarket within a sprawling specialty store. Here, Bonaminio has collected in one place the everyday items formerly scattered through the rear of the store.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog