Pair puts natural foods on the table


With only a few days to go before opening, employees at Roots market hurried last week to fill freezers with garden burgers and veggie burritos and stock shelves with vitamins and herbal teas.

"We have brokers here helping us stock shelves, we have family, we have contractors here," owner Jody Cutler said. "And in the midst of all that, we have employee interviews going on."

The 11,000-square-foot natural foods market on Route 108 in Clarksville opened Friday as the county's second health food market and the largest tenant in an emerging shopping center that developers hope will play off River Hill Village Center, across the street.

"Clarksville is a growing area, and the existing village center doesn't serve all of its needs," said Rob Moxley, a principal of Security Development Corp. "We are complementary to the existing River Hill center. We're not big enough to be a second village center, if you will."

The shopping center is an $8 million project, called Clarksville Square. Jiffy Lube, a Wendy's restaurant, Citizens National Bank and Roots market have alreadyopened in the square, which eventually will include seven buildings totaling 50,000 square feet.

Clarksville Cleaners, Robert Anthony Hair, State Farm Insurance and Merle Norman cosmetics studio are slated to open in Julynext month, Moxley said.

PastaBlitz, an Italian restaurant, is scheduled to open this summer. A car wash is also planned, and dental and possibly doctors' offices will open this fall. The last building to go up in the center is expected to be complete in September, Moxley said.

Some stores in Clarksville Square, such as the bank and car wash, are similar to stores in River Hill Village Center, but others "are new and different," Moxley said. "Roots is a different kind of grocery store."

Different is exactly what Cutler, 32, and her business partner, Jeff Kaufman, 31, had in mind.

One section of the store is devoted to vitamins, herbs and health books. Another is for cookbooks and houseware items such as handmade pottery and wooden cutting boards. And another is filled with body care products, such as aromatherapy oils and natural soaps.

Organic grains, coffees, vegetables and baby food fill the shelves. Freezers are stocked with soy ice cream and organic frozen vegetables, and the fridge is overflowing with soy and gourmet cheeses.

"This is not a '60s co-op that's all about granola and seaweed," Kaufman said. "We look for products that are clean and taste good."

Roots, which has about 25 employees, is the second health food store in Howard County. The first, David's Natural Market in Wilde Lake Village Center, opened in 1986 and at about 5,500 square feet is half the size of Roots. David's has expanded four times since opening, and owner David London is planning further growth.

Roots is Kaufman's and Cutler's first enterprise together. But both have worked in the health food business, and each took a different road to get there.

Kaufman began working at natural food markets after bicycling from Potomac, Md., to Berkley, Calif., and sampling natural foods and herbal remedies along the way. He met Cutler, a former music and drama teacher in Silver Spring, in 1996 when she began working at the health food store in Rockville that he had helped create and get off the ground.

Moxley said that although the pair had never owned a business, their experience, backing and strong business plan was enough to persuade developers to invest in them.

"They had done their homework and had a viable plan," Moxley said, "and we believed it would work."

Kaufman and Cutler chose Howard for their store because many of the customers at the Rockville store drove from Columbia to fill coolers in the trunks of their cars with health food.

The pair took out bank and family loans to start the store and could not estimate how long it would take for the business to be profitable.

The opening of Roots and the development of Clarksville Square indicate strong growth in the health food industry and in that part of the county, said Wayne Christmann, general manager of Columbia Management, which manages all but one village center in Howard County.

With the shopping center across the street from the village center, competition will be healthy, Christmann predicted. "These guys are coming out there with an increased retail presence," he said, "and it's just more of a reason for people to come out here to shop."

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