The heart of a small town: Roberts Grocery has new owners
For Star Prairie couple David and Melody Hoffman, seeing that the Roberts Grocery store was up for sale seemed like fate. As David said, it was too coincidental of an opportunity to pass up.
“We saw the ad and said ‘let’s go for it,’” Melody said. “Everything just fell into place.”
David and Melody bought the grocery store from the Schmitz family and took over ownership Thursday, Dec. 11. Both have had plenty of experience in the grocery business. David began as a stocker 40 years ago and moved through the ranks to become a manager. He worked for the Dick’s Supermarket chain in southwestern Wisconsin before working most recently for his father-in-law’s store, Len’s Family Foods, in Stillwater, Minn.
As for Melody, she grew up in the supermarket business. She has worked in the industry for 30 years, most recently as a deli/bakery manager. Their plan is to build on the solid foundation that Arlene, Jim Sr. and Jimmy Schmitz have nurtured since 1973.
They described the first day as “crazy busy,” but said overall, everything went well.
“We met a lot of people,” Melody said. “We had a really good reception from people in this town. We had people yelling from their cars, ‘Welcome to Roberts!’”
The most significant change the Hoffmans will implement is a name change -- from Roberts Grocery to Roberts Neighborhood Foods.
“It signifies a fresh start and will get curiosity up,” Melody said. “It’s also a play on Roberts Good Neighbor Days, since the community is known for its neighbors and friendliness.”
The store itself has been a mercantile/clothing/grocery since the mid 1800s, David said.
“That says a lot about the community’s support for this store,” David said. “Our heart is with small business.”
The Hoffmans realize people may be worried that they are going to completely overhaul things, but that is not true, they said. Their ultimate goal is to keep things as they are, especially the popular meat department, while building on the store’s solid foundation.
A suggestion book is ensconced at the front register, waiting for the public’s suggestions. Some products that will be added due to requests are beef stew, ribs, potato sausage (on a regular basis) and knucklebones for dogs.
Melody also envisions greatly expanding the deli to include soups, fresh sandwiches and heat-and-eat entrees. She would also like to add fresh baked goods eventually. Customers looking for meat and cheese trays need look no further than Roberts Neighborhood Foods.
As far as employees go, the Hoffmans have retained all the employees while adding one to the meat department, for a total of 15. Melody’s dad, who still averages 35-50 hours a week at his store in Stillwater, has been on hand to offer the couple sage advice, as has Melody’s sister Holly, who lives in Roberts.
The Hoffmans invite the public to the store, describing it as a full grocery shopping experience without having to walk miles of aisles.
“We offer carry out for customers and it’s so much easier to find things than at a huge store,” Melody said. “We have always worked under someone else. Now we can interact with the public one-on-one and we can add products as we choose without jumping through hoops.”
The store also offers home delivery to customers who can’t make it in personally on Tuesdays. Hours will be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. A grand opening celebration will be held in late January or early February. The store will also be open all holidays, with shortened hours.
“Who knows, maybe we will move to Roberts,” Melody said. “But in the years to come, we see ourselves here, running the store. Maybe in 10-15 years the kids or grandkids will take over.”
For more information or to offer suggestions, call the store (106 Main St., Roberts) at 715-749-3840.