BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Probably the greatest indicator that Fareway Grocery places value in community and employees is the fact that the co-managers at Fort Madison’s new location both have worked their way up through the company from their teen years.
Michael Hanna and Mark Braun are co-managers at Fort Madison’s newest grocery store.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Mark Braun, grocery manager. “It’s a very family-oriented company and it’s great in that sense.”
The grocery will open on Wednesday at 10 a.m. following a public ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 9:30 in front of the store. Construction on the facility started in 2016 after negotiations with the city were completed and the County Market building was removed. The building had also been home to Easters and an EconoFoods prior to that.
Stocking of the shelving is almost completed and employees are being trained in shifts with a heavy customer service focus. Employees on Saturday were facing up products and checking stock levels. About nine employees in the Fareway white shirt, black tie and black pants practiced bagging products and working on the “To Your Car Service” promise the grocery has instilled. Employees take carts of groceries out to customers’ cars as a practice.
But the company is known throughout the state for its great meat department.
“Basically, the reason we’re so good is our meat market is vastly superior to others. “Mike, all he’s done is the meat dept. I don’t know anything about meat, but that’s where he specializes. He knows everything there is to know about it.”
Braun handles the rest of the operations of the store from produce, to the freezer department, and front and back ends.
“Mike handles the meat, but he couldn’t check out your groceries. That is why this works so well,” Braun said.
“They call it a partnership. He’s my partner in this store. We both answer to the same supervisor but in the same sense he doesn’t answer to me and I don’t answer to him, but what’s good for the meat department is good for the whole store. I do the dairy, freezer and produce departments, front and back end of things, but he takes care of everything behind that meat counter.”
The store employs about 90 people total and 12 of the staff are specific to the meat department.
Hanna started his career with Fareway 19 years ago in Knoxville as a 16-year-old part-time employee. Hanna said he experimented with college, but the grocery is the business he decided to stick with. He worked his way to Waterloo, Sioux City, Ames, and then Iowa City before taking the Fort Madison leadership position.
Braun said he also started 19 years ago when I was 15 carrying out groceries to cars.
“I went full-time and went to Knoxville and met Mike there and we worked together for three years. I hadn’t seen him in 14 or 15 years. So when I heard we were coming here together that was pretty exciting for me and I called him and we talked about things. We were both pretty excited about this,” Braun said.
He said the company had more than 400 applicants at their open interview day in July and jokingly said they had all positions filled in about four hours.
Both have experienced an elevated welcome from the people of Fort Madison.
“Coming from Iowa City with such a large area with a lot of people – I can’t even drive four blocks here without someone waving at me. This mentality is different and it’s very welcoming,” Hanna said.
Braun said he was very impressed with the Fort Madison Middle School and the parks in the area.
“That new middle school is fantastic. I’m originally from Pella, a town similar in size to Fort Madison, but most recently from Davenport and it’s nice having a park three blocks away from my home now that my kids can ride their bikes to it and we can let them play there.”
Braun said he was at an “Unpack your Backpack” event recently and was actually applauded.
“I went straight over from work so I had my tie and everything on and when I went into one of the other rooms, about five people started clapping. I haven’t seen a reception like this for a new grocery. It’s just been fantastic,” he said.