ASHEVILLE — Less than two months after Earth Fare announced the liquidation of all stores, an Asheville-based group is bringing the grocery store back to several locations, including Boone, it confirmed.
The purchase of several store leases was made official by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware Bankruptcy on March 25. Those include the leases for two former Earth Fare locations in Asheville and single locations in Athens, Ga., Roanoke, Va., and Boone, for a combined $1.6 million, according to the court documents.
The purchase was made by DJ3 Delaware LLC, based in Asheville, according to court documents. The primary investor in the group includes Dennis Hulsing, who owns several hotels, fitness, medical and racquet club locations in the Asheville area, as well as in his home state of Kansas.
The sale also included Earth Fare trademarks and logos. Three additional stores, plus store furnishings, were also purchased in an auction, Hulsing said.
“I just wired (the money) for the closing and sent the documents earlier today,” Hulsing said on March 30. “Our goal is to start reopening them in late May, starting with Asheville and going through a list of the stores we have, which includes Boone.”
Hulsing, who has a home in Asheville, said he was a Earth Fare shopper prior to the liquidation.
“It was a way of life for me, I believe in ‘you are what you eat,’ the very healthy aspect of Earth Fare,” Hulsing said.
New Earth Fare CEO Bethany Turon, who was the senior vice president of human resources and organizational strategy at the previous incarnation of Earth Fare, said the timeline will be determined this week.
“Each will open one week after another over a couple of months,” Turon said.
Earth Fare, which had more than 3,000 employees at its approximately 50 locations from Florida to Michigan, announced Feb. 3 that it was going bankrupt and was liquidating all of its assets by the end of the month. The company cited challenges in the retail industry plus an inability to refinance its debt.
Turon said the news of the liquidation on Feb. 3 was a shock to her.
“It had been undergoing a potential sale, and the buyer walked away at the last minute,” Turon said.
Turon said that the level of expansion Earth Fare had taken on was a negative to potential buyers and creditors, since many of the new stores were not initially profitable.
Hulsing said that the new company does not have any of the former Earth Fare’s debts.
The investor group includes Earth Fare founder Roger Derrough and others. Hulsing said the hope is to add more investors, and they look to add stores in locations that were known to be profitable. Other Earth Fare leases were purchased by grocers Winn-Dixie, Aldi and Whole Foods, among others.
Turon said the plan is to hire as many former Earth Fare associates as possible, and both spoke on the passion and exuberance of the employees.
“Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with a lot of the (general managers) who are coming back to help us relaunch the brand,” Hulsing said. “All it did was reinforce ... that we as a team made the right decision.”
“We do expect to maintain substantially the excellent level of product selection,” Turon said. “We plan to expand the level of community involvement and partnership, and listen to the customers and adapting our business to meet their needs.”
The property that includes Earth Fare was purchased by a group led by U.S. Buildings owner Tommy Sofield in late 2019, with whom Hulsing said he has recently spoken.
“I met and quickly created a good relationship with the Sofields,” Hulsing said.
Sofield could not be reached for comment on March 30.