Rent-a-Chef owners take their gourmet fare in the road with new food truck.
The check out line of your local Wawa is a far cry from a gluten-free oasis, with all those breakfast sandwiches, hoagies and TastyKakes singing their siren songs.
But one former South Jersey Wawa is aiming to become the ultimate one-stop shop for those who don’t consume gluten or want to cut back.
Bleu Bear Market will open on Saturday, Feb. 29 in a Marlton shopping center just off Route 70 on North Maple Avenue.
Owners Ridgway Grace and Mark Rooks also own Bleu Bear Bakery and Haddonfield Donut Co., both in Haddonfield, as well as Beast of the Street food truck and Rent-A-Chef catering business.
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The success of Bleu Bear Bakery, which opened on Kings Highway last June and is gluten-free, inspired the Cherry Hill couple to launch a bigger business to meet the demand for gluten-free products, both wholesale and retail. Grace also used to own My Little KupKake, a gluten-free bake shop that was located in Collingswood.
With Bleu Bear Market about to open, Bleu Bear Bakery moved from its first home on Kings Highway to Tanner Street, into the space that formerly housed Haddonfield Donut Company. Meanwhile, the doughnut business has moved to the Kings Highway location, in a swap that gives the doughnut business more exposure and the bakery a bigger kitchen.
The commissaries for the catering business and food truck will also move to Marlton.
Look for the Bear
When I arrived at Bleu Bear Market, its sign with its now familiar cheerful blue bear riding a doughnut unicycle, was being attached to the exterior of the strip mall.
Inside, Rooks and Grace sat at a table near two long walls of refrigeration and freezer cases, planning their launch. The cases that once housed Wawa milk, Gatorade and snacks will soon be filled with house made, gluten-free grab-and-go meals and much more.
The 3,000-square-foot retail space was chosen because of the size of its large kitchen, Grace explained.
“We were initially trying to find a bigger space to do the gluten-free bakery out of. We didn’t have enough room where we were and we were getting so many requests for wholesale. We looked for months, and we signed the least here starting in October. We looked at it a couple times and we kept coming back to it.’’
“This was an old Wawa, and before that, a Lucky Seven, and we knew that if it was a Wawa, the studying they do on their real estate is pretty good in terms of foot traffic, car traffic. It had been a Wawa for many years, and only moved because they added the gas tanks.’’
The size of the space was initially daunting, but the couple decided this was the time to leap onto a bigger playing field.
“We said, ‘Let’s give it a whirl. It’s kind of going into another bracket when you’re talking commercial real estate, which we’ve never done. But we said, ‘Let’s just do it, we’ll figure it out.’ This is definitely not just going to be a bakery. We are going to do everything here.’’
And not only the market will be gluten-free. With the move, both Beast of the Street and Rent-a-Chef catering will be gluten-free as well, as they will operate out of the same gluten-free kitchen.
Cozy and convenient
While Bleu Bear Market is still being completed, many signature touches were already in place.
Upon entering, guests are greeted by a blue Huffy Deluxe Cruiser bicycle with an overflowing flower basket suspended over wicker baskets that will soon hold grocery items.
Grace’s collection of antique kitchen aprons bedeck the wall over the front doors, adding a warm and homey touch to the space.
The walls are Bleu Bear blue, with shabby chic accents including ceiling tiles the couple’s young children helped to design.
There is a peg board meant to display the Bleu Bear’s wide array of hot and fresh, gluten-free doughnuts. The Instagram-ready board is available to rent for parties and showers, owners say.
A coffee bar will feature Lavazza coffee, espresso and cappuccino, while another counter will offer gelato and milk shakes.
In addition to bakery items, Bleu Bear Market will feature fresh prepared meals and sides, butcher meats including marinades and charcuterie, hot breakfast sandwiches, a salad bar and olive bar, lunch items, acai bowls, smoothies and more.
A Chef’s Corner will feature freshly prepared, hot meals to take home. The owners plan to have theme nights and customers can follow Bleu Bear Market on social media to know what is coming when.
Guests also can expect some organic grocery staples such as milk, yogurt and eggs, as well as some grill-ready pre-packaged meats and fresh produce, kombucha and other beverages. For those who want to do some but not all of the cooking, there will be cookie and pizza doughs available to take home and get creative.
Grocery shelves will be stocked with olive oils, vinegars and dressings. “We are working with Di Bruno Brothers to stock some of the shelves,’’ says Grace.
Wines from Hawk Haven Vineyards in Cape May County will be offered sometime soon.
“In the freezer, there will be stuffed baked potatoes, packets of frozen meatballs all made fresh here, stuff people can buy and bring home,’’ said Rooks. “We’ll have bags of shrimp, and an array of different dinner items and some appetizer things, little crab balls to go, so people can come in and get a bottle of wine, a couple of steaks … ‘’
If this Cherry Hill culinary couple is building a destination for gluten-free customers, they are also building something bigger – a future for their offspring.
“My 18-year-old is enrolling into the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and hopefully she will one day be able to grab the reins,’’ says Rooks of his daughter Kendall, 18. “She’s already running our bakeries a lot now. She’s worked for us since she was 14. I know she would run it right.’’
The bakery and market take the name Bleu Bear from a phrase the family established when Kendall was small, so she could identify friends from strangers. In addition to Rooks’ daughter Kendall, the family also includes Adaline, 7; Everly, 5; Corson, 3, and Indigo, 1.
For now, Rooks and Grace are excited to see this latest, biggest project take shape around them.
“(Mark’s) been in Haddonfield for 22 years and space has really become a factor,’’ observed Grace, who with Rooks also has three other children, the youngest named Indigo. “That is still going to be the face of things, whatever we do but we really had to move and get more space.’’
And a savvy observer of food trends, Grace and Rooks say the market for health conscious and food is only going to increase, which is why they will offer vegan and organic items in their store.
“We are just going to try to go with the times,’’ said Grace.
“And there is no guesswork here. You don’t have to worry about that. Everything here will be gluten-free,’’ Rooks added.
Adds Grace, “We have done the work and have looked at every last label and every last barcode on findmeglutenfree.com. This the direction people are headed in.’’
But gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless, Rooks said.
“You can still eat really good stuff, it’s just a matter of knowing how to work with the ingredients.’’
If you go
Bleu Bear Market: Opens Saturday, Feb. 29 at 27 North Maple Ave, Marlton. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, Friday and Saturday 7 to 9 p.m., and Sunday 7 to 6 p.m. (Summer may include extended hours). facebook.com/bleubearmarket and website to come.
Bleu Bear Bakery: 14 Tanner St., Haddonfield. bleubearbakery.com/
Haddonfield Donut Co.: 109 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield. haddonfielddonut.com/
Beast of the Street: Food truck facebook.com/beastofthestreet1/
Rent-a-Chef: Catering company chef-mark.com/
Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at [email protected] or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.
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