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Jax Daily Record Friday, Nov. 8, 201901:30 PM EST

Native Sun Natural Foods returning as pop-up restaurant Monday

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The pop-up will be a six-week test for a future Native Sun project, says owner Aaron Gottlieb.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

Since Native Sun Natural Foods Market closed its three grocery stores in August, owner Aaron Gottlieb has been popular.

He said his former customers tell him they “haven’t filled their pantries” since the store closed, since they can’t trust the food and ingredients sold in other grocery stores. They’ve been asking him if the organic grocer will return, even if in a different form. 

“They don’t stop beating on our doors, they don’t stop calling us,” Gottlieb said. “They keep going ‘when?’ They don’t believe that we would ever quit.”

The request Gottlieb and his staff heard most often was for the store to continue the food service portion of its business. So Gottlieb decided Native Sun would host a pop-up restaurant, starting Nov. 11 in its former location at 1585 N. Third St. in Jacksonville Beach. It will last for six weeks, he said. 

It will be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or earlier if food runs out for the day.

The Native Sun Natural Foods pop-up restaurant will open Monday at 1585 N. Third St. in Jacksonville Beach.

Native Sun closed in August, citing too much competition from other natural grocers opening in the area. Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s and Earth Fare all have moved into the area since Native Sun opened in 1996. 

In a statement announcing the store’s closing, Gottlieb said he was “hopeful that our community will be blessed with another local organic grocer in our future. As all things great come back again.”

The pop-up will serve customer favorites, such as its Reuben sandwich, a Beyond Meat burger and an unfried chicken sandwich employees used to prepare for themselves. It also will bringing back popular wraps and will serve salads and organic juices.

There will be a grab-and-go option, based on the store’s former hot bar, that will offer meal plates with salmon, chicken and plant-based options.  

“We’re just trying to nail down, if we were to go forward, what Native Sun’s organic and scratch menu would look like,” he said. 

The pop-up will be a test for a future Native Sun project, Gottlieb said. After the six-week run, Gottlieb said he would be able to announce what the company will do.

He and his staff also have been trying to look at “what an independent grocery store looks like in this community,” he said. 

That likely would mean a single location, but Gottlieb said he won’t rule out anything until the pop-up is finished. His lease at the Beaches location remains in effect and he owns the locations in Baymeadows and Mandarin. 

He said he had been meeting with the owners of Grassroots Natural Market in Riverside to better understand how it serves a single community.

Without community support, Gottlieb said continuing with Native Sun likely would not have happened. 

“Really it’s the public that’s motivated us,” he said. “It’s nice to be motivated by helping others. That’s the inspiration for it.”

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