You wouldn't realize it by looking at the neon marquee, with its checkered, retro-inspired backdrop, but Dave's Supermarket (2700 Carroll Ave., 216-274-2940) recently underwent extensive interior renovations in an attempt to keep pace with the changing tastes of Ohio City residents. An expanded craft beer and wine selection, the addition of Maha's Falafel and aesthetic upgrades throughout make Dave's the grocer that refuses to cease growing.
As store manager, Dave Stueve has punched the clock at the Carroll Avenue location, established in 1993, seven days a week for the past nine years. The shop currently employs 110 people, from high-school students to lifers, many of whom have close to 40 years with the company. A small pile of grey PLU codes is amassed at the center of his desk; above them sit lists of requested items from customers scribbled on notebook paper. "I'm always looking to improve every section," he says. "I don't care if it's cheese, grocery, bulk foods ... . Those are just the things we've done."
In the past eight months, new flooring, self-checkouts and signage has made the interior more akin to Whole Foods than inner city chains like Save-A-Lot. Almost 90 percent of frozen and fresh food cases are new, boasting energy conserving doors and LED lighting. Upgraded visual standards for produce and dry goods enables associates to stock a larger variety of products than ever before.
Stueve has seen trends come and go, but one that has remained firm at his store is the popularity of tofu. "I'll tell you the other hot item in grocery: sriracha," he says. If you find yourself with coconut oil, ghee, low fat ice cream, ginger beer, nutritional yeast or apple cider vinegar in the shopping cart, you too may be a trend consumer according to Stueve's list of most sought-after items.
An independently owned sushi stand, which offers an array of cooked or raw sushi and nigiri, was an improvement that management added to keep up with competitors. An updated 90-item salad bar; a sub shop that piles on a third of a pound of lunchmeat with all the fixings; soups and chili; and a vast curated cheese selection greet customers within their first 10 steps through the automatic doors.
Keeping with the theme of catering to health conscious and diverse consumers, Maha's Falafel, a popular Middle Eastern food stand with long roots at the West Side Market, has opened a second location inside Dave's. They offer freshly made staples like hummus, tabbouleh and baba ganoush in addition to filling falafel and gyro sandwiches.
The locations don't seem to be competing despite their close proximity. "I think that we feed off of each other," Stueve reports. "People come from miles away to shop at the West Side Market; it's an event. There's enough business for all of us. They also don't have beer or wine."
More than 2,200 bottles of wine can be found just aisles away along with an entire wall of craft beer. New construction has made room for the State Liquor Agency. In addition to his duties as manager, Stueve has become a surrogate sommelier, assisting customers who appear overwhelmed by the selection. The store comes in first for beer and wine sales among the 13 Dave's locations owned by fifth-generation grocers, Dan and Steve Saltzman, in Northern Ohio.
Characters as colorful as the neighborhood greet Stueve in passing. He has a story about each one of them; after all, he's built a thriving business around their preferences and personalities for the past decade.