Sunday, September 20, 2020

Life After Lucky's: Seabra Foods

Lucky's Market #43 / Seabra Foods of Hunter's Creek
4169 Town Center Boulevard, Orlando, FL - Hunter's Creek Plaza

     After the big shock of the demise of Lucky's Market in early 2020, the dust has begun to settle, and slowly but surely many of these former Lucky's stores are beginning to find new life as other grocers. In the bankruptcy proceedings from March 2020, Lucky's managed to sell a chunk of their Floridian locations to Publix, Aldi, Winn-Dixie, Hitchcock's Market, and Seabra Foods. As time goes on I'd like to feature a sampling of those stores in their new form on the blog, as I know a lot of you have been following the Lucky's fallout closely. The company's spectacular sudden collapse shocked Floridians and many others out there, combined with the collapse of rival organic chain Earth Fare mere days later. Two big organic grocery chains collapsing within days of each other, how much more 2020 could we get than that?! (And this all happened before the year turned really sour too, so Lucky's and Earth Fare were ahead of the game). 

     All that being said, today will mark the first installment in the newest AFB posting series, "Life After Lucky's", where we'll explore the reuses of the Lucky's Market stores that dotted Florida, many of which are quite intriguing. Today's "Life After Lucky's" post will take us to a location purchased by one of the more obscure bidders to win a store at the bankruptcy auction: Seabra Foods. Seabra Foods is a small ethnic food chain with a handful of stores in Florida, and they came out of nowhere to purchase the former Lucky's Market store in Orlando's Hunter's Creek neighborhood. While we'll explore what Seabra Foods is all about in a moment, before we jump into our new life after Lucky's, let's take a moment to jump back in time to remember life before Lucky's here in Hunter's Creek:

*** Photo Courtesy of the Orange County Property Appraiser ***

Winn-Dixie #2391
4161 Town Center Boulevard, Orlando, FL - Hunter's Creek Plaza

     The building that would go on to house the Hunter's Creek Lucky's Market was originally built in 1998 as a Winn-Dixie. Hunter's Creek is one of Orlando's newer neighborhoods, located in the southern part of town in an area that began to develop heavily in the late 1990's. The new Winn-Dixie was included as part of Hunter's Creek's "Town Center" development, which was a large development of shopping centers and apartment complexes to mimic a "downtown" of sorts for the new development. In addition to the Winn-Dixie, another shopping center was built across the street a few years prior housing a Publix and Kmart, rounding out the major retail in the Town Center development. The Hunter's Creek Winn-Dixie didn't last long, this store being one of the ones cut during Winn-Dixie's bankruptcy purge in 2005. The picture above shows the store in 2006, a year after it closed, still with all the signage in-tact.

     By the late 2000's, the Hunter's Creek Winn-Dixie building was subdivided between Lifestyle Family Fitness and Office Depot. Lifestyle Family Fitness was bought by LA Fitness in 2012, who converted this gym to their name. However, LA Fitness already had a larger gym a few miles away from here on South Orange Blossom Trail. While the two locations co-existed for a short while, LA Fitness opted to close this much smaller location on November 8, 2013. From that point until the arrival of Lucky's, a large chunk of the old Winn-Dixie building sat vacant like you see in the above photo.

     I happened to take some pictures of the old Hunter's Creek Winn-Dixie in 2016. Since I never posted them before, I figured this post would be a good time to dust them off and feature them, as they tie into today's subject. While the interior of the old Winn-Dixie was gutted, the exterior remained relatively unchanged until the arrival of Lucky's in 2018.

     This building was an average late-model Marketplace store, although its exterior was given some fancy embellishments to better match the classy look Hunter's Creek was going for.

     Seen here is Winn-Dixie's old entryway, which was left fairly in-tact by Lifestyle Family Fitness after they moved in. Lucky's would rip out everything you see here and start from scratch, so it was a fairly intensive remodel to bring this space back to life as a supermarket.

     With the other automatic doors were removed, this one original entry door managed to survive the transition into a gym.

     This flyer was taped to the window announcing the closure of LA Fitness, directing members to the larger location on South Orange Blossom Trail. Behind the flyer, you can see the windows were also covered over with black tarps. I doubt anything inside from Winn-Dixie was left behind after the gym conversion, so we didn't miss out on much by not getting to peek inside.

     Looking across the remainder of the vestibule, we find two more doors that led into the gym. While in the same positions as Winn-Dixie's, these were new manual doors were installed by the gym.

     Leaving Winn-Dixie's entryway, here's a peek down the plaza toward Office Depot.

     Office Depot tucked their store into a sliver of the right side of the old Winn-Dixie. While Office Depot's space wasn't effected by the major remodel Lucky's took on, Office Depot did get a new facade out of it to better match Lucky's (which we'll see in a little bit).

     Here's one last look at Winn-Dixie's original facade before we continue our journey into the present. In the next photo, everything you see here will be gone...

     I never visited this store while it was open as Lucky's, so here's an image of the store from Google Street View to properly document that phase of the building's life. This store looked just like every other Lucky's, although if your interested, you can see more photos from the Lucky's days here. The Hunter's Creek Lucky's Market opened on October 10, 2018, the same day as the Lucky's store in Winter Park (which we toured earlier this year as the company entered bankruptcy - that post also gives a nice summary of Lucky's background and the problems they faced leading up to the collapse, a nice overview of what happened if you need a recap or are new to the Lucky's saga). The Hunter's Creek Lucky's Market closed in February 2020, alongside the bulk of Lucky's other operational locations in Florida.

     Now that we've gone though all the background info, we've finally returned to the present and our life after Lucky's. Before this store closed its doors for good in mid-February 2020, it was announced Seabra Foods had submitted a bid for this location. The bid ultimately went through at the auction in late March 2020, and Seabra Foods wasted no time in getting this store ready for business. Seabra Foods was the first new store to open in a former Lucky's location, with the grand opening of the Hunter's Creek Seabra occurring on July 9, 2020. Interestingly enough, the second new store to open in a former Lucky's, Hitchcock's Green Market in St. Petersburg, would open the next day on July 10, 2020.

     For those of you unfamiliar with Seabra Foods, they are an ethnic grocer that specializes in selling products with a heavy Portuguese and Brazilian influence. Seabra does sell some Hispanic and Caribbean stuff, but Portuguese products are their specialty. Seabra Foods was founded in 1967 by Portuguese immigrant Americo Seabra, who opened a small grocery store in Newark, NJ (a city famous for having a large Portuguese population). Seabra Foods grew out of that, expanding outside of New Jersey over the years to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Florida. Seabra Foods has actually been in Florida for a while, with the first Floridian Seabra opening in 2004 in Deerfield Beach, Broward County. That was the only Seabra Foods store in Florida until 2014, when a second location opened in Orlando's tourist district. With the new Hunter's Creek location, Seabra now has four Florida stores, the Hunter's Creek store following the opening of another South Florida Seabra in 2019.

     As we saw in the last few photos, Seabra Foods did nothing to change the exterior from Lucky's besides new signage. Even the shopping carts are the same, as we see in the photo above. When Lucky's closed all these stores, all the companies that submitted those initial bids bought each location fully furnished. For the smaller guys, that worked out nicely, as Seabra took advantage of that in their remodel. While Seabra did change some things around inside, the place still feels very much like Lucky's. That being said, let's head inside so you guys can have a look for yourselves:

     One thing Seabra Foods did do here was a quick decor swap. While most of Lucky's original signage was removed, some decor pieces from Lucky's were repurposed. For example, Lucky's famous "Food Glorious Food" sign had its wood panel background saved by Seabra, their own produce signage replacing Lucky's. Seabra also added additional wood paneling behind the old "Food Glorious Food" sign, as well as some additional pictures.

     The layout of this store is still identical to how it was when Lucky's was here. You enter the store into the produce department, which is located in the building's front left corner.

     In the front left corner itself is the old juice counter. Seabra still uses Lucky's juice bar too, and they were really pushing the fresh squeezed orange juice throughout the store. Unlike most of the other departments, Seabra actually left all of Lucky's signage and decor in-tact on the juice bar.

     From the produce department, here's a look across the front of the store. Beyond the check lanes is the in-store cafe, which we'll see more of later in the post.

     The folks at Seabra must really like their wood paneling, as they installed more of the stuff over the front end too. In addition to the paneling, some historic photos from the Seabra company's early years lined the walls, along with Seabra's S-leaf logo prominently featured front and center.

     It was really easy to spot this in person, and if you zoom in on the above photo it should be semi-visible too, but you can still make out the labelscar from the old "Food Glorious Food" sign. "Food" is visible over the 'm' in "Farm", with "Glorious" somewhat visible behind the word "Farm".

     Like I said before, the vast majority of the fixtures seen in here were left from Lucky's, like the wooden produce displays in the photo above. All of these fixtures were practically new too, as this store was only open for a year and a half before it closed.

     This photo provides us with a nice overview of the entire produce department.

     Leaving produce, we'll quickly slip down aisle 1, which is home to the frozen foods department:

     Seabra Foods continued the wood paneling down the frozen foods aisle as well, adding their own signage in the process (and replacing this). Seabra seems to have standardized this decor package into most of their stores, with the few I pulled up online having very similar signage to what we see here.

     The restrooms sign seen here is another leftover from Lucky's.

     Just like Lucky's had it, dairy is located along the back wall in the left corner, with the meat coolers following as you move further to the right.

     Turning the camera to my right for a better overview shot, here's a look toward those meat coolers I mentioned.

     While Seabra does carry some mainstream groceries, the vast majority of the dry grocery section is dedicated to what Seabra does best: selling hard-to-find Portuguese/Brazilian products. If there's a particular Portuguese product you want and can't find it anywhere else, I'm sure you'll find it here.

     Here's a sampling of some of the products for sale in aisle 2, this picture showing some packages of coffee and cookies from the looks of it.

     Many of the products here had packages entirely in Portuguese, like these wafer cookies from Nestle.

     There were a lot of interesting and different foods to take in while browsing the aisles. I haven't been around much Portuguese/Brazilian influence before, so this was a new experience for me.

     While I was here, there were quite a few people browsing the aisles and stocking up on the various Portuguese specialties. One man even had an entire cart filled with cases of some drink, so that stuff must be hard to come by!

     Rounding the corner out of one of the grocery aisles, here's a sneak peek into the fresh departments. We'll see more from here shortly, but as you probably guessed, not much changed from Lucky's over here either.

     Aisle 5 is home to cleaning supplies, as well as most of the store's general merchandise selection (cookware, paper products, etc.)

     Giant bulk bags of rice occupy part of this aisle.

     Lucky's old bulk foods department, pictured here, was converted into more aisles of generic groceries by Seabra. Seabra uses these few short aisles to stock the majority of the store's mainstream dry groceries, like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Hershey bars, and the like. The main grocery aisles (outside of the cooler sections and general merchandise) were almost exclusively dedicated to Portuguese products. Protuguese products are Seabra's specialty, and what makes this store different from others in the area, so it makes sense those products take up the majority of the floor space here.

     Quite similarly to Lucky's (although I don't know if this is common to other Seabra stores), the Hunter's Creek Seabra has a vary large selection of wine and beer. After the Portuguese specialty products, wine and beer would have to be second place in what this store focuses on selling. Even Seabra's official grand opening video spent most of its time focusing on this department!

     I'm not one who drinks much, so I didn't spend a lot of time looking over the beer and wine department. A lot of the beer sold here seemed to be the typical big-name fare, but I didn't pay close enough attention to see if Seabra brought in a selection of beer and wine from Portugal or Brazil to compliment the rest of the products offered here. I'd be shocked if they didn't in some form.

     Drinking aside (as long as you pardon the pallet of beer, that is!), we'll head off into the fresh departments. The meat counter took up the space along the back well, with the deli and kitchen off to my right. The seafood department was located in the island obscured by the pallet of beer, that island formerly home to Lucky's sushi and ramen bar.

     In addition to the meat coolers along the back wall, the coffin cooler in front of me contained more meats (which is also what Lucky's did).

     The signage for the butcher shop and sausage counter match the old Lucky's paint scheme well, and even look a bit Lucky's-esque themselves!

     The sausage counter occupies the back right corner, followed by the deli and then the kitchen. Again, not sure if this is a common Seabra thing or not, but in the spirit of Lucky's, a large prepared food selection was carried over by Seabra into their new store (including the pizza shop and the salad bar in front of me).

     Lucky's signage was still hiding on the side of the salad bar too. I was here somewhat early in the day, so the entire salad bar wasn't stocked yet (explaining the empty section here). Still, it was quite the big salad bar.

     Behind the salad bar is The Kitchen. While the signage is different, the name of the department is still the same from Lucky's.

     Seabra's kitchen was quite the eclectic assortment of foods, including Portuguese/Brazilian specialties, some Hispanic stuff, as well as sandwiches and pizza. The pizza offering here seemed to be a tribute to Lucky's, who was famous for their pizza (and I miss Lucky's pizza quite a bit myself!) The pizza wasn't ready yet while I was here, but I'd like to come back and try some to see how it compares to Lucky's.

     Seabra had a nice little setup over here. While Seabra isn't trying to recreate Lucky's with this store, they seemed to blend some of the elements that people liked from Lucky's (the pizza kitchen, the cafe, the large wine and beer department) into their own store. So while Seabra made the store their own, they also considered what people liked from Lucky's too. I guess you can say the Hunter's Creek Seabra store is a blend of both old and new.

     Rounding the corner from The Kitchen, we find the bakery. Unlike a lot of the other ethnic stores in Florida, which skimp on the bakery departments in favor of other amenities, Seabra had a full-blown bakery here. In addition to the pastry case, there were lots of cakes and breads to behold here - some more mainstream, some more traditional Portuguese/Brazilian.

     To make this sign more accurate, the "Hot Baked Bread" sign should have an arrow pointing to the left next to it, as that's where the bread comes from! Otherwise, this sign is displayed over another section of Portuguese/Brazilian snack foods. As I really don't know what else to call it, the "Hot Baked Bread" alcove between the cafe and bakery was formerly home to Lucky's Apothecary department (aka health and beauty). Since Seabra placed their rather small health and beauty department elsewhere in the store, this space became an expansion area of sorts for snack foods, baked goods, and wine.

     Here are a few more samples of the imported snacks sold here. I find wandering through aisles of these different products to be quite interesting, seeing all these different foods from around the world.

     Along the side of the cafe was this drink cooler, which I photographed since it had yet another remaining Lucky's sign on it ("Frosty Beverages").

     We'll cut through some more wine as we work our way out, but before that, we still haven't seen the cafe!

     Lucky's old cafe was converted into what Seabra calls "Dee's Cafe". From what I can tell, Seabra only operates one other Dee's Cafe as of now, that other being at Seabra's flagship store in Newark, NJ. Dee's Cafe is a coffee bar with a small menu of Portuguese food, and a seemingly nice place for lunch. However, unlike the New Jersey cafe, Dee's Cafe in Hunter's Creek also serves alcohol. I didn't see anything about sip and stroll here though (which would have been a really big tribute to Lucky's), but if anything, you can at least sip before you stroll when you shop here (or after, or before and after - I don't judge!) 😀

     The fixtures in the cafe seem to be Lucky's old ones, just repainted and refinished. While Lucky's tended to do things like local flare and custom signage in their cafes, they didn't here. This store had a rather generic looking cafe while Lucky's was here. Seabra redecorated this space to give Dee's Cafe its own vibe to match the theme of the rest of the store, including the giant picture of the Pão de Açúcar - a famous landmark in Rio de Janeiro (the picture being visible two photos up).

     As we leave the store, a photo of (who I presume is) founder Americo Seabra and his wife hangs next to the doors, overlooking everyone in the store. Americo's son Antonio now serves as owner and operator of the company, and he gave his best wishes to the new Hunter's Creek store on opening day in a live video stream from the flagship store in Newark.

     So life after Lucky's brings us a new Seabra Foods store. I never looked much into this chain prior to their purchase of this store, but it was an interesting experience. The opening of this store is another one of the many examples of unexpected opportunities that sometimes come out of another's failures. I never would have thought that stores like Seabra Foods, Hitchcock's Market, or even Winn-Dixie would have been interested in any of these ex-Lucky's stores, but here we are. While a bankruptcy may close the doors of one store, sometimes is opens new doors for others.

     While life after Lucky's has proven itself to be a strange place, we still have more to experience. As time goes on and more conversions happen (and I get a chance to visit them), we'll begin to see those others here on AFB as well. I know a lot of you have been following the Lucky's drama, and even though that's behind us, the conversions are just now beginning to appear. Winn-Dixie has begun conversions of their acquired Lucky's stores, with projected openings starting this fall. Publix is slowly getting their acquired stores ready for mid-late 2021 openings, and Aldi seems to be making some progress with beginning their renovations. And on top of all the acquisitions, we still have all those other empty Lucky's stores out there, and who know what we'll see come out of those. Only time will tell I suppose, but I guess we'll just have to get used to this new normal - a new normal of life without Lucky's, that is.

     So that's all I have for today. More Albertsons next time, so be sure to come back for that in two weeks! Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger