When Lee Snyder decided to open a mega farm-to-table supermarket in Cape Coral, he traveled to glean design ideas from top grocery chains. He wanted a simple, back-to-basics market, so he looked at New York-based Wegmans, Texas-based Central Market, Stew Leonard’s of Connecticut and others. He also borrowed ideas from his successful seasonal market, Red Barn, in Delaware—and the name “Joe,” a Cape Coral farmer who launched his career.
The 55,000-square-foot Farmer Joe’s Market, at 1401 SW Pine Island Road, features a red barn with a white silo exterior. After paying $1.84 million for the vacant parcel, Snyder and two partners hired Cape Coral-based Compass Construction, Above All Roofing Contractor of Naples, Cape Coral-based Kirkwood Electric and others to build the roughly $18 million store, which opened in January.
“It was important to have something different from what everybody else was doing,” Snyder explains. “You have to separate yourself from the rest. Every department has its own theme.”
But after more than eight months of success, Hurricane Ian caused extensive roof damage, equipment damage and product loss, shutting down the store. In the weeks that followed, as repairs ensued, Snyder worked with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Spokes of Hope, Feeding Florida and other nonprofits to transform the huge parking lot into a distribution site. They doled out water, meals, cleaning supplies and essentials to more than 15,000 families in need and also hosted a Trunk-or-Treat event, donating more than 630 bags of candy to more than 4,500 kids.
Now, after weeks of repairs, Snyder plans on reopening. “I am optimistic that we will be open for Christmas,” Snyder says. “When we feel we are ready to reopen, we will advertise on our website, social media page and our marquee sign.”
Inside, the store’s visual focus is its perimeter, a colorful landscape of barns, farm stands, quaint villages and rooftops, windmills, murals of farms, fields and blue skies. Above the 24-foot “Fresh from the Sea” seafood section, a man fishes from a wooden boat as a pelican floats by and colorful fish swim below.
Some designs are reminiscent of a child’s toy village, such as abstract, billowy green trees dotted with red apples, a beige barn and red tractor, cartoonish cows, chickens and smiling pigs, while others are realistic, such as large cows peering over shoppers.
Snyder’s social media coordinator, Brittany Ritter, created a different animal sign for each aisle’s offerings. Above pet food supplies, a dog perches above a red-framed chalkboard, and she’s created many more 3-D signs. A Florida flag highlights local produce, while chalkboards with messages abound.
Above the bakery is a wheat-field mural and a fence decorated with shovels and a pitchfork. Rustic hanging lights are made from old-fashioned whisks. “We went to a lot of auctions, especially farm auctions,” Snyder says of vintage touches.
Rustic-looking wood flooring or brick was used on walls, while displays are covered with pallet-type raw wood branded “Farmer Joe’s Fresh Market.” Bottoms of refrigerated displays are wrapped in wood. Floors are simple, polished gray concrete, and high warehouse ceilings were painted black, highlighting the store below and hanging displays, such as chicken coops. The colorful perimeter designs were manufactured by a retail design firm, shipped and assembled onsite.
Instead of numerous confusing aisles, there are seven. “There’s just enough to make it happen, but without many traditional household names,” Snyder says, noting that he searches for products not found elsewhere, such as Braveheart Beef from Kansas. The result is an old-fashioned grocery in overdrive, featuring a 13,000-square-foot produce section, a 48-foot Butcher Shoppe, an 82-foot deli section and a 40-foot bakery. In addition, there’s a 6,000-square-foot wine department with a sommelier. One aisle sports 53 doors of frozen items, with vegan and dairy on the other side. A “Little Italy” deli with red-and-white canopies features meats and cheeses from around the world, while expert advice is available at a health and beauty section. Above the perimeter are offices, computer stations, a conference room and a comfortable employee break room.
The focus is local and organic produce—“We have the largest produce department in Florida, maybe even the East Coast,” Snyder says—plus meats, seafood and baked goods, as well as ready-made meals and grill kits, grab-and-go meals and sushi. There is also a small dining area with dark wood tables next to the quaint ice cream, juice and coffee bars.
It was a difficult feat building and buying equipment during the pandemic due to supply-chain issues, but after Lucky’s closed most of its stores and filed for bankruptcy, Snyder purchased shelving and equipment at its online auctions. “We actually bought a whole store,” Snyder says.
Instead of hiding equipment, shoppers can see the hustle and bustle and old Hobart mixers whirring. “There is no behind-the-scenes,” Snyder says. “You can watch everything being made.”
But tucked behind the deli is a huge kitchen, complete with chefs, sous chefs and prep cooks creating grab-and-go items, meal kits and fresh, colorful pasta and ravioli. To entice palates, there are 18 demo and sampling areas storewide.
Snyder is preparing for store No. 2 in Fort Myers and has already purchased land, he says, adding, “This is just the beginning.”