The LeBlanc’s Food Stores chain out of Ascension Parish is powering into Baton Rouge with its upscale supermarket that will displace a Hi Nabor store in the Drusilla Village Shopping Center.
A LeBlanc’s Frais Marché will move into the Hi Nabor spot in August and begin expanding the location’s footprint in the shopping center by about 50 percent — going from the current 19,000 square feet to just under 30,000 square feet.
Donnie Jarreau Real Estate purchased Drusilla Village in April for nearly $10.5 million and plans to spend about $2 million upgrading the center.
Jim Crifasi, president of Hi Nabor, said he was unable to come to terms on a lease in Drusilla Village, “which would allow us to maintain the low prices we pride ourselves in offering our customers.”
Hi Nabor plans to open “a newer, larger and better store in the very near future,” but Crifasi would not discuss the location.
Alex Knight, of Donnie Jarreau Real Estate, said the expansion and renovations for LeBlanc’s will take three to four months.
“We are going to be doing everything in our power to try and get them open in time to sell turkeys for Thanksgiving,” Knight said.
To turn the space into a Frais Marché, Randy LeBlanc, one of the owners, said the chain will spend $2.5 million to $3 million.
This will be the ninth store for LeBlanc’s, a family that has been in the grocery business for more than a century. The company has two stores in Gonzales, and one each in Prairieville, Zachary, Donaldsonville, Plaquemine, Plattenville and Hammond.
Last year, the company started rebranding some of its stores with the Frais Marché concept, emphasizing organic produce, prepared foods and specialty Cajun meat dishes. The stores at 14635 Airline Highway in Gonzales and Prairieville are already operating as Frais Marché locations, and the stores at 209 S. Airline Highway in Gonzales and Zachary are currently being rebranded.
LeBlanc said the Frais Marché concept has re-energized the business started by his grandfather in 1961.
“This is bringing back the customer service the retail industry slipped away from,” he said. “You walk in and a butcher is cutting your meat, someone is cooking your burger or Philly cheese sandwich.”
About 70 people, split evenly between part- and full-time employees, will work at the store.
LeBlanc’s will get the room to expand by taking over an empty space on one side of the store and by relocating the China Wok restaurant to another spot in Drusilla Village, LeBlanc said.
Over the years, LeBlanc said regular customers have asked him to open a store in Baton Rouge. The chance to take the Frais Marché concept into Drusilla Village led him to make the move.
“This has been very successful for us,” he said.
There are a variety of grocery stores within two miles of Drusilla Village, including Whole Foods, Calvin’s Bocage Market, Maxwell’s Market and Costco. LeBlanc said he plans to compete with them on the basis of customer service, competitive prices and quality products.
“We’re going to offer a complete line of products, from choice beef to canned vegetables,” he said. “We’ll have a clean, efficient, modern store.”
Hi Nabor is the second longtime tenant to move out of Drusilla Village. The Pastime Jr. restaurant closed earlier this month. A similar shake-up happened in the Southdowns Village Shopping Center after Jarreau purchased it a few years ago and made extensive renovations, bringing in popular new businesses such as The Bulldog and Portico.
“We are hoping our faithful Hi Nabor customers will continue to shop at our Winbourne and Jones Creek locations while we transition to the new store,” Crifasi said.
Two Hi Nabor shoppers were split on the move.
Latoya Stringer said she is sad to see Hi Nabor leave her neighborhood because of the quality of the food it sold and the fair prices. “They have the best meat,” she said. Stringer said she may start shopping at the Jones Creek Hi Nabor store.
But Wendy Myers said she’s pleased that LeBlanc’s is moving in. “This is great,” she said. “I welcome it.”
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate