Cooperative grocery store is committed to promoting wellness and healthy living
Walk into the Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe in Pensacola and you cannot help but immediately notice the clean, open feel, with colorful produce, plants and deli surrounded in fresh green walls and signage.
That first impression of health and wellness and everything behind it is an intentional, well-thought-out welcome coordinated by General Manager William Rolfs and the store’s staff and board of directors.
William was hired as a store manager in 2009 after a 26-year career at the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain. He started there as a 16-year-old grocery bagger and worked his way up to store director. Faced with a corporate move to a store in Atmore, Alabama, he decided to pursue other career opportunities. William heard about the store manager opening at Ever’man, and found a local grocery cooperative with potential.
“On my first visit, I walked every aisle in the store with my wife,” says William. “It looked like the store needed some basic upkeep like painting and general maintenance. I also noticed the staff not talking with us as new visitors. That got me thinking. I felt like I could really make a difference not only with the look of the store, but also the people and the service.”
Reflecting on his start at Ever’man, William says it was a period of transition both for him and the store. The general manager he worked under left six months later. Soon, William was named interim general manager.
Because his background was with a corporate grocery chain, he says he had to learn how to manage as a cooperative and what that meant in building trust with board members, staff and the general membership.
As a cooperative, allowing time for feedback and discussion is important, and every opinion matters—from members and staff, to the board of directors and the national cooperative.
Ever’man is part of National Co+op Grocers and works with the Development Cooperative, an advisory group for co-ops.
Given the growing demand for clean and organic food choices and changing trends in healthy living, William, the staff and board stay busy. A major renovation to the current store was completed in 2014, and Ever’man is embarking on a long-awaited second store.
After years of research and discussion, Ever’man bought a 4-acre site in 2016 on Nine Mile Road near the University of West Florida—a busy, growing area.
Groundbreaking in October 2018 was a celebration of years of planning as a cooperative, actively working to bring the best ideas together for more shoppers.
“The second store will be similar to our current store, with a few updates to serve the students and young family demographics in that area,” says William. “We’ll offer a pizza and burrito bar, sushi, hand-dipped gelato and more convenience foods. We will also have Kombucha on tap, which is a growing trend and new to this area.
“We also plan to make it a fun, family-friendly environment with a fire pit and a walking trail around the drainage pond. We’ll eventually have a teaching garden, and we expect our education center will be busy. Most of our classes are free to members, which is a great benefit for the cost of the annual $20 membership.”
William says National Co+op Grocers offered input on health trends nationwide and what is working.
“One thing you will find in our Nine Mile store is a produce butcher, which most people have never heard of,” William says. “It’s happening around the country. It features a room you can walk up to with the produce you’ve selected and have it sliced any way you want it. Drop it off, go shopping and pick it up when you’re ready to check out. We’re also looking into offering fresh juices you can watch squeezed right in front of you.”
William is proud of the quality of goods offered at Ever’Man.
“Our members count on us to research the foods and products we offer to make sure they meet the highest standards for clean, healthy choices,” William says. “We take that very seriously. Our product policy is so tight, our shoppers can pick up anything in the store and know it’s clean, without chemically made ingredients and no artificial dyes.
“We go through 200 to 300 items a month. In the time we take to research a product before it goes on the shelf, at least 10 different employees review it. It’s time consuming, thorough and something we have to keep up with. We continually have to check for any product changes. One ingredient can change and the product will no longer meet our standards and have to come off the shelf.”
William says there really is a difference between a corporate grocery chain and operating as a cooperative.
“At Ever’man, you don’t have to be a member to shop here, but there is value in joining, like free education classes,” he says. “One of the biggest differences is knowing that all the decisions are made right here. In the corporate world, that is not the case.”
As Ever’man opens its second store, it will welcome new members and explore trends in health foods, grocery and wellness as it strives to offer clean, healthy choices for area families.