Writer / Janelle Morrison Photographer / JJ Kaplan The long awaited grand reopening of the Carmel Kroger store was a brilliant success last month, generating a lot of excitement and buzz around the city. Boasting a much larger space with an abundance of natural light, expansive departments and an incredible second-story mezzanine, the renovated structure is more than just a grocery store. It is an experience. Karen Hansen, Kroger store manager for Carmel, spoke about her history with Kroger and what this reopening has meant to her. Hansen is celebrating her 39th year of service with Kroger. “I have had an opportunity to do a variety of different things and many roles throughout my career with Kroger," Hansen said. "I was in South Bend for the first part of my career, and then my husband and I moved down here 12 years ago. I came to the Kroger in Carmel in February of 2014, and this renovation project has been one of the most enjoyable assignments that I have ever worked on. We are so excited to have this incredible new facility. “To me, as a store manager, if we give our customers this , then we have to also give them a special experience in terms of how we make them feel when they come in. We have a great team of Kroger associates, many of which are familiar faces to our customers.” One of those familiar faces is their wine steward and expert, Peter Ryan. “Peter is such an engaging person and can answer any question that you have about wine and how to pair it,” Hansen explained. “He writes a monthly newsletter that he sends to his best customers that talks about his ‘wine pick’ and recipe of the month. During the renovation period, we sent him to Ivy Tech to learn more about craft beers and how to pair the beer. He can share with our customers how to present and serve fine wines and craft beers for any occasion.” The Carmel Kroger department managers underwent extensive training leading up to the grand reopening in mid-June. The meat and seafood mangers went to Seattle for training and went to Pike Place Market, the famous public market overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront in Seattle, Washington. Nick Jones has been with Kroger for 10 years and manages the seafood department. “We visited the Pike Place Market and saw firsthand how they specialize in product freshness and top-notch customer service,” Jones said. “I took away from that experience the point to be more engaging with our customer, in general. We focus on the greeting of our customers and offering them a wide range of ideas on how to prepare, cook and plate the seafood. “We are on-hand to answer any questions about our products that our customers have. We are proud to offer the ‘Easy for You’ program. This program offers to our customers any fish that they see in the case that they would like to have seasoned and prepared is done, so that all that they have to do is take it home, put in the oven for 30 minutes, heat and eat.” Another Kroger associate and Carmel resident who is celebrating his 10 years with Kroger, Justin Graves, was placed with Kroger through Noble of Indiana. He is a very special employee and warms the hearts of all who have the pleasure of working with and knowing him. “I work in the bagging department,” Graves said proudly. “I like to be here and be with the people that I work with. I give great customer service because I like to see people happy. My favorite thing about Kroger, it is like my family. We are about teamwork." Graves lives with his uncle, Gregory Gustafson. “He loves his job,” Gustafson emphasized. “He gets up in the morning and takes the bus to work and back home. He’ll walk in the door at the end of the day, and say ‘It’s been another day in paradise.” Hansen flashed a big smile at Graves and said, “Justin is just a very special and important part of our team.” Another customer favorite is Kroger’s famed pastry chef, Gershom Kachilika, or “GG” as he is more affectionately known. “I used to work for a French restaurant,” Kachilika said. “As an artist, I wanted to do something different, and then I came in as a cake decorator for Kroger as a part-time associate. I fell in love with what I was doing and decided to make this my full-time career. My grandmother used to bake on Sundays, and it was something that we did every Sunday as a hobby. “I went to school for pre-med and wasn’t satisfied with the path that I was on, so I ended up becoming a pastry chef. I am very passionate about cakes. It never feels like a duty or daunting task. I like to push the envelope and create the best products for my customers. For me, it is about the personal attention and building the customer relationships.” In addition to these wonderful associates and their departments, Kroger in Carmel continues to offer a Starbucks cafe and has expanded their various departments with an even more expansive selection of products and services than before. Customers are able to catch a quick bite and select from the posted menus for each station in the bistro area. They offer a variety of food options and specialty items such as hand-cut fries, expanded salad bar, an assortment of sandwiches, burritos, cheese and so many other delectable items. Pre-packaged foods and prepared meals, ready to go, are available so the customer can just pick it up, heat them at home and have a nice meal. Murray’s, one of the oldest cheese mongers in New York City, has built a relationship with Kroger and has a department in the Carmel Kroger location. There are less than a dozen Murray’s cheese departments in this division of Kroger, and that number is growing. The Carmel Culinary Kitchen will host events and cooking classes for our customers at their new Carmel store. “We’re excited to be able to teach our customers about creative and easy ways to prepare foods, as well as providing product demos and informational sessions with a daily schedule of events,” Hansen said. “We hope to share the expertise of our associates with them while engaging them and becoming their resource for planning special meals and events for their family and friends. We also plan to partner with local organizations to bring additional special culinary and wellness events to the Carmel community in the future.” If you haven’t already, stop in and say hello to any one of these fine associates and visit their departments. Don’t forget to try the specialty chocolate fountain while you are there.