The Oakes family of businesses is to Collier County’s agricultural landscape as skyscrapers are to the New York City skyline: dominant. There’s Oakes Market on Davis Boulevard, the beloved Food & Thought on U.S. 41, farmland out east and a huge distribution reach across North America that also includes a fishing operation—and it’s expanding. Up next is the Seed to Table market on the northeast corner of Immokalee and Livingston roads. Their team is transforming the shell of the old Albertsons into a grocery store the likes of none we’ve ever seen. To give us the scoop, I spoke with Steve Veneziano, vice president of sales and operations for Oakes Farms.
So, the big question: When are you opening?
We’re looking closer to fall of 2018. We were shooting for this October, but we’re almost a year behind in many capacities, so we’re shooting now to open in October 2018. It’s just always been something in Alfie [Oakes]’s dreams. He’s taking his time on it and doing it right. He owns the land that it’s on, including the Dunkin’ Donuts—they lease it from us.
Can you talk about some of the work that you’re doing? Wasn’t a grocery store previously there?
It was an Albertsons. Basically all it was was concrete and supporting poles. When Albertsons went out of business, [the Oakes family] bought the plot. We’re expecting to have a need for 400 employees when we open. Inside we’re planning multiple restaurants with total seating for 300. We’ll also have a private wine room, and our kitchen will be the third-largest commercial kitchen in all of Collier County, second only to the Marco Marriott and The Ritz.
Wow. Can you talk more about those restaurants and the dining experience you’re hoping to provide?
We’re going to have a private, sit-down restaurant upstairs. At the very center of the store will be the primary seating area—about 40 tables (125 seats) will be around a juice bar and prepared food area. We will have a lot of fresh product, like fresh cheese, that people will see being made and sold in areas throughout the store. We’re expecting to have a large lunch and dinner crowd.
And what about Food & Thought—I heard you’ll have something like that café here?
Yes, we’ll have an organic café—we’re calling it “Food and Thought II.” Like the original, there will be a large juice bar. We’re also going to have a wine bar and a full-service bar with hard liquor. For the private restaurant, it will kind of be members-only, more intimate, six or seven tables with full service.
Now let’s talk about the grocery side of the equation. Can you describe that?
Probably 75 percent is going to be shopping for yourself to cook at home. We do expect to be the busiest fresh produce from a grocery retail aspect in the county—to have produce, meat and seafood. We own Captain Jerry’s Seafood distribution—it’s an in-house supply chain. We are relying on our own vendor for quality.
We’re also going to have a children’s learning center—a daycare. It’s free of charge. Moms can drop off their kids while they shop.
We’re not going to have grocery aisles in the traditional sense, and we’ll have very few dry goods. It will mostly be specialty items. You’re not going to be able to get AA batteries or Fruit Loops. It will be all-organic and healthy for one section and the other will be specialty—all high-end stuff.
Can you say how it will be different from other specialty and high-end grocers?
There will be substantially less center-store product than others like it. For example, we’re not going to have a whole bunch of ice cream in freezer aisles—we’ll have fresh ice cream being made every day. We aim to be the largest produce, seafood, meat and prepared food departments in Collier County.
I know the name is “Seed to Table” for the market, and we all see that name on your company’s trucks, too. Can you talk a little about it?
It’s our brand. Seed to Table is our premium brand of groceries that are distributed throughout the U.S. from our farmland. You’ll find our bagged and fresh products across Canada and the U.S.
How do you envision the Seed to Table market fitting into Southwest Florida?
I think it’s going to fit in very well. We’re offering a high-end experience, and it’s going to create a luxury, high-end experience and it’s going to offer something that you can’t get anywhere else.
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