Natural Foods Merchandiser

Tropical experience entertains Ada's shoppers

Tiki huts, trees and 11-foot-high water?falls are just the beginning. At Ada's Natural & Organic Foods in Fort Myers, Fla., a rain forest theme pervades the 28,000-square-foot location from the entrance to the inside of the lost-temple-themed, temperature-controlled bulk room. But co-owner Ed Bonadies says the store isn't just about looks. "We want to offer our customers a lifestyle that they might not normally have, through a variety of products, services and atmosphere."

Bonadies' interest in a healthy lifestyle came the hard way, when he was diagnosed with ulcerated colitis as a 13-year-old. His doctor told him he'd likely have colon cancer by 15, and the sulfur pills he was given caused an allergic reaction. His father took him to a health food store to find an alternative, and Bonadies began a regimen of healthy eating. Within six months his illness was in remission. Seeing value in the health food store, the Bonadies family bought it. And they've been dreaming bigger and better ever since.

When the Bonadieses bought Ada's in 1993, it had only two employees in a 900-square-foot space. After two moves into larger locations, Ada's now has more than 100 employees, and a second location is scheduled to open before fall. From the start, the Bonadieses were committed to standing out. "We just want something different for the customers," Bonadies says. "Most health food stores have white floors, white shelves. For us, that just doesn't do it anymore. People come into Ada's to take pictures." The Fort Myers store usually sees at least 6,000 customers a week, he says.

Ada's is strongly focused on bringing in a variety of natural foods and giving customers access to the best the industry has to offer. "When I was young, we didn't have all these foods," Bonadies says. "The stuff tasted like poop then, compared to the variety we're able to find." Part of that variety includes almost 1,000 gluten-free items. On top of the store's weekly sampling, the second weekend of every month is devoted to gluten-free foods, giving potentially reluctant customers a chance to try new products at 18 different sampling tables. Plus, all the store's gluten-free items are labeled with green stickers for easy identification.

Service is another area where Ada's is bent on raising the bar. Ada's only hires people who have previous experience in the industry, whether it's with a different store or as a representative with one of its vendors. And so far, Bonadies says, the store has had no trouble finding qualified staffers. "If you have a question, they usually have answers," he says. "If not, they'll jump on the computer and find it for you."

Cape Coarl fitness centerThe new 14,000-square-foot store in Cape Coral will have all the same amenities as the Fort Myers location, plus a two-story, full-service fitness center. Time-crunched shoppers who aren't able to enjoy the Canadian woodland-inspired indoor "mountain ranges," waterfalls and log-cabin bulk room will be able to hand over their shopping ist to a personal shopper, who'll gather the items for them while they exercise next door. The fitness center, which already had 1,100 members signed up by August, will be open 24 hours a day and offer free classes like Pilates, spinning and aerobics.

But the dream doesn't end at Cape Coral. Bonadies, with his father Nick and brother Louis, plans to open at least four more stores within the next few years, each with a new and more elaborate theme. All of the designing and expanding is geared toward the Bonadieses' ultimate goal of opening a completely organic resort in the Caribbean. The plan is for an all-inclusive Disneyland-style resort, minus all the harmful chemicals and allergens. All the Ada's stores are just test stores, Bonadies says, culminating in the resort that they hope will include some 1,500 rooms, 17 restaurants, a chemical-free water park, indoor ice-skating rink, theaters and a casino. The family is already researching organic furniture and bedding, as well as chemical-free water systems for the resort, in hopes they can provide a safe vacation spot for people with chemical sensitivities and allergies. "When you're on vacation, you go to relax," Bonadies says. "You don't want to have to worry about a chemical reaction."

But in all the progress, people and the environment are still concerns for the Bonadieses. Ten percent of the casino's profit will go back to the resort's island, supporting local organic agriculture, Bonadies says. Another 10 percent will go toward environmental programs. The rest will be reinvested in a new resort to continue the Bonadieses' organic dream.

4650 S. Cleveland Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Owners: Ed, Louis and Nick Bonadies

Retail space: 28,000 square feet
Best-selling department: Vitamin/supplements, 42 percent of annual sales

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 9/p. 142

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