15 Years in the Making
Outpost takes wraps off its Mequon store

By Dave Fidlin - News Graphic Correspondent

June 10, 2014

Outpost Natural Foods recently opened a store in Mequon.
Photo by Art Dahlke

MEQUON - From its earliest roots in 1970, the Outpost Natural Foods cooperative chain has upheld a steadfast mission of shining the spotlight on eco-friendly practices and supporting businesses that create high-quality foods.

The company’s fourth stand-alone store, in Mequon, not only maintains that mission, it builds on it.

After a lengthy discussion process and nearly a year of construction, Outpost staffers took the wraps off the fourth location, 7590 W. Mequon Road, when the store opened May 12.

The new store marks a pivotal moment in Outpost’s 44-year history. The cooperative begins a physical presence outside Milwaukee County’s borders.

Lisa Malmarowski, director of brand and store development with Outpost, said the cooperative had eyed a Mequon location for about 15 years.

Shoppers are first drawn to a bountiful produce section.
Photo by Art Dahlke

She said Mequon residents have historically been avid supporters of Outpost and its mission by staking ownership into the company. At last count, Malmarowski estimated about 350 Mequon residents own a piece of Outpost.

“This has been a push-and-pull area for us,” Malmarowski said. “We’d been looking around, and this is something that had been on the back burner for quite a while. We’re very excited to be here.”

Malmarowski led a reporter on a tour of the new Mequon store just days before the doors officially opened to customers.

The Mequon store has a number of first-of-its-kind features, including an electric car-charging station that is prominently mounted within the parking lot.

Throughout construction, Malmarowski said significant attention went into planning the physical features, inside and outside the store. The company is touting the Mequon store’s abundant use of skylight windows to cut down on energy costs.

While solar panels have yet to be installed – officials at Mequon City Hall will need to approve such an addition – the store was constructed with a roof that is so-called solar-ready.

“Having solar panels is a part of our long-range sustainable goals,” Malmarowski said.

The new store features a sit-down dining area.
Photo by Art Dahlke

The exterior of the Outpost property also includes a bounty of green features – and some of them could eventually go into the local store’s produce offerings. A so-called kitchen garden will include fresh-grown produce. The land also includes a mint garden, raspberry bush and pear trees.

Malmarowski said sustainability was at the heart of the entire design project. The parking lot is porous, a type of pavement that enables stormwater to drain through a stone-based layer for on-site infiltration. Rain barrels and a rain garden are also part of the exterior features.

Outpost also pays homage to the site’s history. Numerous trees had to be removed to make way for the construction. A few were relocated, and those that weren’t have been reused for other purposes, including accenting the interior of the facility.

A Mequon-based company, Retailworks, played a prominent role in planning the interior features within the new Outpost store. Malmarowski said every detail – from the flooring to the overhead lighting – was made methodically in an attempt at being as green as possible.

While each Outpost location functions primarily as a retail space, Malmarowski said there also is an education component. As with the other freestanding stores, the Mequon location will feature an education space – one that Malmarowski proudly trumpets as the largest yet.

“A lot of what we’re about is education,” she said. “We want to educate people about eating better and living better.”

Malmarowski and other Outpost leaders say they also aim to make their stores a place where people can congregate. In other words, the stores are not necessarily places where people need to enter and exit with one swift move.

Nowhere is this mission more evident than the in-store café within the Mequon location. Flanked by paintings and prints from local artists, the café features locally brewed beers and sodas, as well as such specialties as hand-made pizzas made over a wooden stove.

“We want to be a community gathering space,” Malmarowski said. “We are going to be featuring revolving art exhibits in the café.”

While Outpost is a local chain, Malmarowski readily points out each store has its own distinguishing features that are designed to mirror the surrounding community.

The Mequon store, for example, will feature a regular dose of artisan bagels from New York-based bakers, as well as a number of kosher meats. Both gestures are designed to appeal to the Jewish population throughout the North Shore.

Partnerships also are a hallmark of Outpost and its mission. Locally, Malmarowski said the cooperative will be teaming up with leaders of the Mequon Nature Preserve for some of the educational activities.

Outpost would not be able to sustain itself without partnerships from the local produce growers and food manufacturers. The company has long had relationships with a number of Mequon-based companies, as evidenced by a Wall of Local Vendors display that greets customers upon entering the store. Local partners include the Barthel Fruit Farm.

While the grocery business has become increasingly competitive in recent years – as evidenced by the entry of such retailers as Meijer, Walmart Supercenter and Woodmans – Malmarowski said Outpost is able to hold its own in a crowded market by staying true to its mission.

Outpost holds membership into several cooperative organizations, and Malmarowski said networking with other like-minded cooperatives throughout the country has been beneficial in charting Outpost’s future.

“We want to adapt beyond the hippie image,” she said. “There’s a growing interest in what we stand for. People want to know where their food is coming from.”