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Former Earth Fare CEO opens market in Brevard

Mike Cianciarulo chats with a customer at Food Matters Market in Brevard. Mike Cianciarulo chats with a customer at Food Matters Market in Brevard.

BREVARD — Mike Cianciarulo learned the supermarket trade at upscale market Gooding's and sharpened his marketing skills competing with the popular Publix supermarkets in Florida. Fletcher-based Earth Fare hired him as CEO in 1998.

Cianciarulo is putting those combined years of experience to work in his new venture, Food Matters Market in the old Poppies gourmet store location in Brevard.
The 10,500-square-foot store opened on Aug. 8 with a soft opening. "We haven't done any advertising at all," he said last Saturday morning as the store grew more crowded. It seemed roomy and spacious at 10 a.m. By noon, the manager was calling for help at the cash registers up front as the line of buggy-pushing patrons grew to six deep.
Customers had discovered Food Matters in the few days it had been open. Cianciarulo plans a grand opening on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. For now he is fine-tuning the operation, filling shelves with the latest and freshest in natural foods, health and vitamin products, fresh produce and meats and stocking an array of beer, wine, soft drinks and juices.
Fresh produce glistens in a display counter where customers walk in, through a BB Barnes nursery that has co-located with the natural foods grocery at 1 Market Street just off U.S. 64 in Brevard. A selection of imported and craft beer covers a wall of the store. Even the pet food is natural.
Born in Chicago, Cianciarulo grew up in Orlando, and cut his teeth in the competitive supermarket battles of Central Florida, where Publix is based. He learned the gourmet trade from his time at Gooding's. "Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney, told me that Gooding's was the only supermarket he would allow on Disney property," he said.
When Earth Fare called on Cianciarulo to run the chain in 1998, the natural foods venture had just two stores. When he left it had 13. Natural and organic foods had become the niche he enjoyed the most. He took it seriously.
As CEO, he initiated outreach programs with local farmers, introduced organic fresh meals and banned unhealthful ingredients like high fructose syrup, a Supermarket News story in 2008 said.
A resident of Kenmure in Flat Rock, Cianciarulo decided to open his own store in the location that had been home to Poppies, which went out of business last fall.
Of the staff of about 28, about half are former Poppies employees. Cianciarulo found the workers — team members he calls them — to be strongly committed to quality and community-based retailing.
Showing a visitor around, he pointed out the prepared food section, where shoppers can order a sandwich to go or to enjoy upstairs in the 3,000-square-foot loft. It used to be part of the retail space in the old store. "No one wants to go upstairs to buy groceries," he said.
He converted the upstairs space into a community room with tables and chairs, plus a couch and comfortable chairs arranged around a gas fireplace. Community groups can reserve the space for meetings. Food Matters also will also host workshops where natural foods, vitamin and supplemental representatives will talk about their products.
At the meat counter, head butcher Chris Beeson took the time to explain a cut of beef to a customer. The organic beef and chicken comes from a local farm and the store is always looking for the freshest in chemical-free meats and seafood, he said.
As he walked around the store, Cianciarulo greeted customers, many of whom raved about the new market's offerings. Each time a customer brought up a product they'd like to see in stock, he tapped a note into his smart phone.
"We want to put up a board that people can write on, asking for products or maybe saying something about an employee they got good service from," he said. "We'll look into it and we'll write, 'found it, coming in two weeks' or 'looked, can't find it.'"
The parking lot that had been roomy at 10 a.m. was close to full at noon. Many Poppies customers plus the organic crowd and some tourists had already found Food Matters Market.

Food Matters is open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday. A grand opening will be held Sept. 1. Contact the store at 828.885.3663 or at