Rouses Markets expanding into Alabama with 6 stores

Rouses Markets, the independent supermarket chain based in Thibodaux with stores in Louisiana and Mississippi, said Monday it is expanding into Alabama through six stores formerly owned by Belle Foods.

Terms of the sale were not released.

Associated Wholesale Grocers, a retail-owner cooperative, bought the stores at Belle Foods’ bankruptcy auction in Birmingham. Rouses will be leasing the locations.

“We’ve been looking at Mobile for a few years. Kind of everyone along the Gulf Coast, all the way from Lafayette to Mobile, enjoys the same food,” said Donny Rouse, managing partner of the grocery chain. “It was really something we thought would fit real good for us.”

The Alabama stores are located in Mobile, Gulf Shores, Spanish Fort, Saraland and Theodore. Rouses Markets will begin interviewing current Belle Foods employees for jobs on Tuesday.

All of the stores have around 50,000 square feet of space. The new locations are closed and will remain closed during remodeling.

The renovations will cost about $2 million per location and take four months or so to complete. The planned improvements include in-store sausage kitchens and seafood boiling rooms.

Rouses now operates 38 stores in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The grocery chain recently announced three new Louisiana stores: Lafayette, Gretna and a Baton Rouge location on Airline Highway, between Baringer Foreman Road and Highland Road.

No opening date has been set for that store. Rouse said the company is waiting for Antioch Road to be extended to Airline Highway.

“When that starts construction, we’ll start construction,” he said.

It takes around nine months to build a new store.

Rouse has said the chain is looking at ultimately having three stores in the Baton Rouge market.

Rouses traces its roots to City Produce Co., founded by J.P. Rouse in Thibodaux in 1923, buying locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and the French Market in New Orleans, according to the company.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Rouses had supermarkets in Houma, Thibodaux and Raceland, followed by Lockport, Cut Off and Morgan City.

In 1999, Rouses started opening stores dubbed “epicurean markets” that were significantly more upscale than its existing stores. After opening five of them — in Thibodaux, Houma, Mandeville, Slidell and Youngsville — the concept really became the norm for new Rouses locations, Rouse said in a 2012 Advocate interview.

The key, Rouse said, is a store with the freshness that a customer can smell and see when he steps into the entrance.

In 2007, Rouses purchased the 18-store New Orleans division of Sav-A-Center, the former A&P chain. A year later, it purchased Choice Supermarkets on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Those acquisitions and the stores built from the ground up have helped make Rouses one of the largest independent grocery chains in the country, with 38 stores employing more than 5,400 workers. Its stores range from 5,000 to 90,000 square feet.