First recipient of Fresh Food Retail Initiative closes, puts store on market

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Charles Maldonado/The Lens

The big sign out front says DaFresh Seafood & Produce is open, but signs on the windows and doors say it's closed. Owner Doug Kariker said he's selling the store because it was too much work. The store received a low-interest loan meant to expand fresh food offerings in under-served neighborhoods.

A Central City grocery store that received a low-interest loan under a city-funded program to bring fresh foods to under-served neighborhoods has been closed and placed on the market.

Owner Doug Kariker said the store was too much work. “I can’t do it anymore,” he said. The store was not profitable, he said, “but in our business plan, we didn’t expect it to be” in the first year.

The big sign out front says DaFresh Seafood & Produce is open, but signs on the windows and doors say it's closed. Owner Doug Kariker said he's selling the store because it was too much work. The store received a low-interest loan meant to expand fresh food offerings in under-served neighborhoods.

The big sign out front says DaFresh Seafood & Produce is open, but signs on the windows and doors say it's closed. Owner Doug Kariker said he's selling the store because it was too much work. The store received a low-interest loan meant to expand fresh food offerings in under-served neighborhoods.

He now hopes to make about $100,000 from the sale, less than a year after he opened the store.

DaFresh Seafood & Produce opened in January at 2139 Baronne St., at the corner of Jackson Avenue. In his State of the City Address, Mayor Mitch Landrieu cited it as evidence of the success of his Fresh Food Retailer Initiative.

That program, funded partly through the city, aims to improve access to grocery stores by providing flexible, low-interest loans to retailers that open stores in neighborhoods without supermarkets.

But late last week, The Lens found the store shuttered and posted with “for sale” signs. The 1,000 square-foot building is on the market for $339,000.

In August 2012, the Fresh Food Retail Initiative loaned Kariker $117,000 — $17,550 of which was forgivable, according to the mortgage — to open DaFresh Seafood.

The store was the first beneficiary of the program, which has since loaned more than $2 million for projects including a Whole Foods in Mid-City and the reopening of the Circle Food Store in the Seventh Ward.

City Economic Development Advisor Aimee Quirk said in a written statement that Kariker closed the store due to “unforeseen health concerns.”

“We are hopeful that another operator will continue the store,” she said, “and wish the current owner the best as he restores his health and works to fulfill his obligation to repay the FFRI [Fresh Food Retail Initiative] loan in line with program guidelines.”

The Fresh Food Initiative is funded with $7 million in federal Community Development Block Grants from the city and $7 million from Hope Enterprise Corporation, the city’s financing partner.

The $17,550 is forgivable over a five-year period only if the recipient stays open and complies with the program requirements for five years, which hasn’t happened in this case, said Landrieu administration spokesman Tyler Gamble.

Kariker told The Lens that he plans to repay the loan in full once he sells the property. “We can’t abdicate our responsibility,” he said.

The loan helped to pay for improvements that have significantly increased the value of the building, a former gas station. He estimated he put between $100,000 and $130,000 into the store, including $49,000 to buy the building in 2010.

All told, Kariker stands to make anywhere from $92,000 to $122,000 on the sale — if he gets his asking price.

“That remains to be seen,” Kariker said. “You have to sell it first.”

This story was updated after publication with comments from city officials.

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