For many folks living in New Hope and Lambertville, a visit to the health food store means taking a 12-mile trip to Flemington, N.J.
Not anymore. Basil Bandwagon Natural Market, the natural foods and supplements store with locations in Flemington and Clinton, is opening a new shop in Lambertville at the former Big Bear Natural Foods site on North Union Street.
For local residents, it’s a big deal. The area is underserved in terms of grocery options, although things have been looking up of late. McCaffrey’s Food Markets on Jan. 3 confirmed that it’s seeking to open a new location in the New Hope Shopping Center at 300 W. Bridge St., and Poppy’s Greengrocer, a socially-responsible produce market, hopes to open in April on Route 179 in New Hope.
Basil Bandwagon, also aiming for an April opening, will round out the mix as a sort of one-stop shop for everything healthy, including natural groceries, an organic cafe and juice bar, premium supplements, bulk foods and plenty of allergy-friendly options.
Co-owners Ralph Celebre and Susan Haase got together romantically before their business relationship blossomed. The couple began their relationship in 2008, and four years later opened their Clinton location together. Celebre had started Basil Bandwagon in 1993 in Flemington.
Haase devotes much of her time to advertising, marketing and community outreach for the business, while Celebre gravitates toward store development and hiring. He began studying herbal medicine in the 1980s.
“We basically feel it’s important to communicate with our customers,” Celebre explained. “In big box stores, it’s hard to find someone to talk to intelligently about the products. Our wellness ambassadors direct people to information and products. We’re not allowed to diagnose or treat, but we can talk about what other customers like and what the literature says about wellness, vitamins and special diets.”
“We offer bulk herbs and medicinal herbs, so folks can make their own healing tea,” added Haase. “We also have the best peanut butter and almond butter ever. And all of our produce is organic — it’s important to us to have that certification.”
“We want to provide the staples,” said Celebre. “We want to feed families — we want folks to come in and do a full shopping.”
An organic cafe and juice bar has been a key element in Basil Bandwagon’s success, and the owners hope to have seating with permission from the city.
“We have great wraps, soups, and salad,” noted Haase. “Its all organic and fresh made daily, including dairy free, gluten free, and paleo. We try to offer something for everybody.”
“Our chef has 40 years of experience,” said Celebre. “His black bean and veggie burger has won awards.”
Haase and Celebre say they’ve always felt a special connection with Lambertville.
“We have friends here, and we’ve wanted to open for years because we love the community,” said Haase.
“Artists and others have already reached out to say ‘welcome’ — that’s a community,” Celebre said. “Lambertville is a special place with people who want good quality food.”
“My favorite part of coming to work is the customers and our stellar staff,” added Haase. “It’s nice to have a place where you can get to know your customers. We try to empower people to take better care of their health.”
Celebre is confident that Basil Bandwagon’s formula for success will work in their new location.
“We feel that a well-trained staff, a fully-stocked store, and great buyers and curating of products are the keys,” Celebre said.
Strong community outreach is also a priority for the company, having supported a variety of local causes including the Hunterdon Land Trust, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, food pantries and school programs.
“We’re bringing Basil Bandwagon to Lambertville to serve the community, to feed the community, and build on what we’ve been doing in Flemington and Clinton,” Haase explained. “Customer service differentiates us, and that helps build customer loyalty.”