Katuah Market in Asheville to close at end of month


Katuah Market, the local, independent grocery store opened by John Swann near Biltmore Village just over a year ago, has announced it is closing.

From the store’s announcement on Facebook:

Katuah Market is closing on March 31st
It is with deep regret that we must announce Katuah Market will be closing at the end of this month. As you may know, Katuah has struggled since the beginning with our location, difficult ingress-egress, and relentless corporate competition, all of which has resulted in disappointing sales. Asheville has seen two large-format natural food stores open in the last two years, each owned by multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations, in addition to the five large corporately-owned stores that were already here, creating the most competitive natural food market in the country for its size. Although we have made significant changes over the past couple of months; trimming staff, reformatting our meat department, adding a Hop Ice Cream parlor, re-merchandising the supplement and grocery departments, etc., none of these changes produced the required increase in sales or significant enough cost reductions that were necessary for survival.
We are proud of the store that we created. The quality of our prepared foods and meats was first rate. Katuah Market was known as a welcoming and pleasant place to shop and eat, and we are told that our customer service was unsurpassed. We developed a positive company culture with happy, dedicated, and loyal employees. Every department was well stocked and merchandised. We carried more local products than any other store in the region, by far, and we helped bring a number of new products to market. Our store is rated with five stars, and 5,755 “likes” on our Facebook page.
Nonetheless, there are (too) many options for organic and local foods in Asheville, and our location and size limited our success. Many people chose not to drive the extra couple of miles it took to get to our store. Others bought most of their groceries at the big corporate chain stores, who offered an endless barrage of discounts, coupons, and advertising, leaving Katuah with only small, occasional, and incidental sales. Our customers shopped us more like a grab & go restaurant with an attached convenience store than as the grocery store that Katuah was designed to be.
Our food service sales were good, especially at lunch, but sales of the other more profitable departments dwindled to the point that our business is no longer sustainable. So, at this point, we have no alternative but to close the doors. Our last day of business will be Tuesday, March 31st. Between now and then, we will continue to offer our excellent quality prepared foods, and we will be offering our grocery and other products on sale, so come on down and get the deals while they last!
We truly appreciate the support that our loyal customers provided, and we hope that you will continue to support the other locally-owned stores in Asheville: the French Broad Food Co-op and West Village Market,
With deep regret,
The Management and Staff at Katuah Market

Asheville’s grocery options have multiplied greatly over the past couple of years, with the opening of a new Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s stores on Merrimon Avenue, a new Whole Foods on Tunnel Road, and the pending opening of Publix.


just saying March 24, 2015 - 2:13 pm

The opening of Katuah -in an obviously less than ideal location… and in an uber saturated natural grocery store marketplace- was simply a pretext for John to fleece his newfound “investors” in Katuah. This is what John does…. everyone who has ever been in business with John (and there are no repeat partners/investors in John’s serial ventures…. ever) knows this. This was never about local and sustainable… this was about John garnering a generous salary for a year or so. And, despite John’s previously statements in regard to his financial position…. he won’t be declaring personal bankruptcy. His investors however lost every penny they gave John…. which is unfortunate but was pretty much a certainty from the get go. I seems though that John has burned all his bridges this time around and [finally] worn out his welcome here in Asheville. Let’s hope so anyway.

Anonymous Katuah Vendor March 22, 2015 - 11:25 pm

I can speak for a lot of local vendors that were screwed by John Swann. While claiming to ‘support’ local vendors, he capitalized on their local status for his own promotional gain, while falling deeper in debt. So now he is out of business and moving on to a new job in Chattanooga working for another natural foods market while we are left high and dry and owed lots of money for our local products. Don’t feel sorry for this guy. He is despicable.

luther blissett March 23, 2015 - 2:22 pm

Well, damn, I wish I’d known that sooner. Sorry the vendors got screwed.

TheRealWorld March 22, 2015 - 12:36 am

I concur with some of the other comments. That their prepared food was tasty and high-quality, selection limited and location difficult but also that the staff seemed quite detached.

At times, just while checking out, it felt like I was bothering them or was just a human blob with a wallet. It was bizarre and I did wonder about it because people, understandably, won’t tolerate that.

Seems it’s clear where it came from. For 20+ years now, I’ve said that: in business, just like in families, the tone trickles down from the top.

C’est la vie.

Chad March 20, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Probably one of the hardest places to turn left out of in Asheville. Then again so is Greenlife and it seems to do okay. I do feel bad for the local vendors that sold to Katuah though. I know of a handful that had a really hard time getting paid and some that still have debts that will probably never be settled. That’s sad for a grocer that prided itself on supporting local businesses. Just remember that when you go to shop at the going out of business sale you’re probably buying goods that have basically been stolen from local vendors.

jennifer March 20, 2015 - 10:40 am

That is sad. It is two blocks from my home so it was easy to get to. The prices were higher than anywhere else, but the convenience made it worth it at times.

Non gmbro March 19, 2015 - 9:13 pm

This store wasn’t even non gmo. They just banked on the fact that they were the small guy and wouldn’t get called out, and they were right. They tried to capitalize on an image that wasn’t even real.

Meredith March 19, 2015 - 2:23 pm

Gosh I think they would have done great in west asheville.

Their salad bar was amazing.

So sad.

Meredith March 19, 2015 - 2:22 pm

Gosh I think they would have done great in west ashevulle.

Their salad bar was amazing.

So sad.

luther blissett March 19, 2015 - 1:27 pm

The location did them in, and I think the size of the space worked against them: not big enough to compete with the bigger hippie-supermarkets on selection and price for commodity items, not small enough to run cheaply in terms of staff and capital costs.

There’s probably room in town for something on the scale of the FBFC or the West Village Market, small-scale shopping plus on-site prepared food, the way people actually used Katuah Market.

Credit Katuah for this: they actively sought out produce and perishables from small-scale local producers, when neither GreenLife/Whole Foods or Earth Fare do so that much any more. I bet if you go into GreenLife and tally up the local products these days, most of them are beer.

Richard K March 19, 2015 - 1:06 am

I grieve for the loss of this endeavor. John Swann put a beatifful top notch store together….unfortunately in a very difficult location. If folks delve in to the history of how Whole Foods bullied the unfortunate hostile takeover of Swann’s former soulful and innovative Green Life creation, one might likely, as did Swann, experience appropriate anger and disappointment. As a customer inspired by the Heart of Katuah, I will terribly miss this visionary independent support-local-everything store. With deepest gratitude to John and Katuah staff !

Howard March 18, 2015 - 9:54 pm

We are sorry to see the Katuah Market go because of people supporting Whole Foods!!. We always support local independent stores and have supported Katuah as much as possible but it just couldn’t compete with the other markets in Asheville. It didn’t have enough selection and good prices to make the location worth traveling for. If Katuah was more like the old GreenLife it may of had a fighting chance. Thank you John and the staff at Katuah for trying to make a local Independent quality store the midst of Corporate giants.

Tiger March 18, 2015 - 8:09 pm

Katuah Market opened and struggled in a tight specialty grocer segment among Buncombe County food retailers with two Earth Fare stores, two Fresh Market stores, one Trader Joe’s store and two Whole Foods Market stores.

John Swann March 18, 2015 - 6:01 pm

Hey everyone, who am I?

I’m going to violate the first rule in opening a service business and choose a horrible location. Inevitably, we’ll shut down, but I’ll post a bitter rant on Facebook blaming everyone I possibly can when it happens.

chris March 19, 2015 - 12:23 pm

Oh, I thought you were just another little monster on the internet trying to be clever.

GinGin March 18, 2015 - 5:49 pm

Bitter and defeated, Katuah is blaming the customers for using them as a “grab & go restaurant with an attached convenience store” as opposed to a “grocery store they were meant to be.” The very next sentence says that their “food service sales were good, especially at lunch.” So which is it? You can’t dictate what your customers SHOULD shop for.

Bashing the competition (as well as the public!) is in poor taste and the Facebook post reflects really badly on the owners. It seems like they were well aware of the challenges they faced from the beginning but only made some major changes in the past couple of months.

The article says that “people chose NOT to drive the extra couple of miles.” From where? Katuah is closer to my house than most other food stores but the prices were much higher there. I support local business but I can’t justify spending $10 more per trip to the grocery store. I usually shop for about ten items at a time, several times a week. I went to Katuah several times and only bought the necessities on my list because the prices were outrageously high. Who doesn’t want to shop where you can get a fair price? Katuah is censuring the public for wanting a bargain.

The selection there was limited AND I was not impressed with the service. I went in there a couple of times about 15 minutes before closing time and definitely got the vibe that they were ready to get out of there. Employees were cleaning and straightening and no one offered to help me.

It may not sound like it, but I am sorry they didn’t make it. It is close to my house and it was a nice concept, but with so much competition, I wonder why they thought it would be a smart business decision to go up against the big players? They had the location going against them from the start.

Don’t blame the public for your poor business decisions. The author of that post was sullen and resentful and I hope Katuah takes that comment off of Facebook, not only to save their reputations as business owners but also to save face as members of our community.

Eric March 18, 2015 - 4:57 pm

I made this list when Whole Foods opened. These are the grocery stores I could think of, with their distance in miles from Whole Foods. This doesn’t include the new Publix and the first BiLo is gone already.

0.8 Target 115 River Hills Rd

1.1 Aldi 480 Swannanoa River Rd
1.1 Ingles 29 Tunnel Rd
1.2 Walmart Supercenter 125 Bleachery Rd

2 BiLo 801 Fairview Rd
2.1 Katuah Market 2 Hendersonville Rd
2.4 Ingles 1141 Tunnel Rd
2.8 Greenlife (Whole Foods) 70 Merrimon Ave
2.9 Trader Joes 120 Merrimon

3 Harris Teeter 136 Merrimon
3.1 French Broad Coop 90 Biltmore Ave
3.1 Amazing Savings 121 Sweeten Creek
3.1 Amazing Savings 45 S French Broad
3.6 Go Grocery Outlet 1380 Tunnel Rd
3.9 Ingles 780 Hendersonville Rd

4.3 Ingles 225 Charlotte Hwy
4.8 Ingles 915 Merrimon Rd
4.9 Fresh Market 944 Merrimon
4.9 Earthfare 66 Westgate Pkwy

5.3 Ingles 7 Leicester Hwy
5.5 Fresh Market 1380 Hendersonville Rd
5.6 Ingles 669 Haywood
5.7 Aldi 1344 Patton
5.9 Go Grocery Outlet 121 New Leicester

6.2 Walmart Supercenter 1636 Hendersonville Rd
6.8 Publix 1830 Hendersonville Rd

7.1 Earthfare 1856 Hendersonville Rd
7.1 Ingles 1865 Hendersonville Rd
7.7 Ingles 153 Smoky Park Hwy

8.2 Ingles 575 New Leicester
8.5 Food Lion 1360 Charlotte Hwy

9.6 BiLo 511 Smokey Park Hwy
9.7 Ingles 863 Brevard Rd

10.1 Ingles 499 Weaverville Rd

11.7 Walmart Supercenter 60 Airport Rd
11.8 Amazing Savings US 70 Black Mtn
12.2 Ingles 140 Weaver Blvd
14.1 Ingles 301 Long Shoals Rd

Eric March 18, 2015 - 5:22 pm

I meant to say it does include the new Publix. These are probably the main competition. That’s quite a list for a city the size of Asheville.

Whole Foods, South Tunnel Rd
2 Katuah Market 2 Hendersonville Rd
2.8 Greenlife (Whole Foods) 70 Merrimon Ave
3.1 French Broad Coop 90 Biltmore Ave
3.1 Amazing Savings 121 Sweeten Creek
3.1 Amazing Savings 45 S French Broad
4.9 Fresh Market 944 Merrimon
4.9 Earthfare 66 Westgate Pkwy
5.5 Fresh Market 1380 Hendersonville Rd
7.1 Earthfare 1856 Hendersonville Rd
11.8 Amazing Savings US 70 Black Mtn

Jason Sandford March 19, 2015 - 8:00 am

wow. some telling info. thank you for sharing.

Das Drew March 18, 2015 - 4:39 pm

It’s okay to be bitter about stuff. You have to eventually work through it and get over it. All the best to John and his top notch staff. I’ve basically lived at Katuah for the last few months and will miss it.

VPN March 18, 2015 - 3:53 pm

Seems like John Swann might have dipped into the same well once too much. As I understand it, he was an investor in Earthfare and Greenlife– both in the same markets. At first glance it appears he actively participated in creating the saturated marketplace that the statement lamented…

Maybe accept that you made a poor decision. I don’t see many people looking to start new hospitals in this town either.

Former Reporter at WYPN March 18, 2015 - 3:48 pm

Rather than issuing a lengthy statement blaming everyone else for their problems, the owners could have simply tweeted “We’re closing–we had a bad location” and ended it there.

Mike March 18, 2015 - 4:12 pm

Yes, a little bit of ‘too much information.’

lisa March 18, 2015 - 1:32 pm

sounds like they are blaming the people for not coming instead of taking some responsibility for the store not working in that location. i went there a few times ready to shop and was sad that i couldn’t really buy much because everything had an expiration date of within a day or so.

Danny March 18, 2015 - 10:46 am

Wow that press release really smacks of cynicism. Understandable that they’re upset, but that’s quite a rant, really. Will really miss the hot bar. I always appreciated how many vegan options they had there. 🙁

allen March 18, 2015 - 10:31 am

The location wasn’t bad, at least for everyone who lived in Kenilworth/Oakley. The real problem was affordability. They wanted people to do the bulk of their grocery shopping there? Then how about some affordable staples and fresher food?? I realize they didn’t have the bargaining power of the “multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations,” but could they not have compromised a tiny bit on the no GMO/hyper-local/organic shtick and given us some reasonable basics? The prices were laughably high and showed the owners to be very out of touch with their customer base.

This is Asheville and people are generally a) just scraping by financially and b) not short on options, food-wise. They should know that.

Wow March 18, 2015 - 10:11 am

Wow. Way to blame the customers you did have for not buying enough, that they should’ve been MORE loyal and that your closing is in no way your own fault. I feel bad for the employees that followed Mr Swan over from their “corporate” jobs where they were offered living wages and health benefits to have to start over again. I love the idealism conveyed, but it was poorly executed.

Zeke March 18, 2015 - 10:11 am

This guy seems really bitter about “corporate” competition. It’s mentioned three times in the first paragraph. Corporations were there before he opened, and Ashvegas certainly keeps us updated on all rumors of future grocery happenings, so there’s nothing unexpected there. I can’t think of a business in any sector that doesn’t deal with corporate competition.

Not surprised at the news but I am surprised it happened this quickly. The location is terrible. I can count all the times I’ve spent money in Biltmore Village, EVER, on one hand. Since he’s invested so much time and money, maybe he could move to a smaller spot with better foot traffic and grow from there. I’ve been meaning to check out the store, maybe I can make it in the next two weeks.

AVL LVR March 18, 2015 - 10:08 am

I knew it would fail before it opened. The location was very difficult. It is either impossible to exit or enter. Its hard to walk to from Biltmore Village. They weren’t going to get people from downtown because the French Broad COOP is there. I went there once to eat at the deli. I endangered my life (LOL) running across the train tracks and busy US 25. Maybe they should have just sold prepared foods. It’s too hard to compete against Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, and Whole Foods without forming a COOP.

Brian Shope March 18, 2015 - 9:06 am

Should have looked at west Hendersonville. The demographic supports an organic store. only options are in Eastern Hendersonville.

Rachel March 18, 2015 - 9:03 am

Sad to see this. I love Katuah market!!

Lauren March 18, 2015 - 7:16 am

I worried about the location from the start. Especially during rush hour when many people would normally do some shopping. Biltmore Village. Ugh. The store was beautiful but I didn’t go often due to the location. Wish them the best.

smytty March 18, 2015 - 6:19 am

Horrible location. I’d have loved to check them out, but who wants to deal with Biltmore Village at peak traffic?

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