At least 50 brown bags of customer orders were lined up by the registers at Cornucopia Natural Foods at 9 a.m. on Monday. And this was the day after Easter.
“We’re processing the rest for pick-up for tonight right now,” said Cornucopia owner Jonathan Lien. “This is nothing. By tonight it will be packed with at least 200 bags.”
To keep up with the 24-hour turn-around demand, “we’re limiting orders to 80 a day,” Lien said.
Just say “Cornucopia” and the name prompts an enthusiastic familiarity with this Sayville store and helpful staff. During the pandemic, their dutiful and cheerful esprit de corps hasn’t wavered. Customers are welcomed daily, shelves are stocked frequently, earlier hours are available for seniors and health-challenged customers, as well as an online service with curbside pickup.
“Business in general has been 50 percent higher since the pandemic,” Lien said, eying the bags. “The challenging part is keeping up with the demand.”
Lien has 65 staff overall and has been giving out additional bonuses as a thank you. “I give bonuses anyway,” he said. “Now I give a little extra to help out. Everyone has been pretty good about coming in and we’re also paying more per hour.”
On a recent shopping foray, customers with masks, some without, were courteous and kept the required distance. Many thanked the staffers, get- ting a sincere back-at-you response. “That’s always important for us to hear,” said Lien of the customers’ gratitude.
Vicky Hansson, who was standing in the back with a clipboard checking off items needed for ordering, has worked at the store for 17 years.
“We have a lot of people saying, ‘It’s calmer here, and not chaotic,’” Hansson said. “Most of our customers are concerned about us and that makes us want to do more for them. And most are customers with special needs. How can we give up on them?”
The family-run and independently owned Cornucopia, established in 1976, expanded three years ago to a glorious 5,000-square-foot space and enlarged its deli, prepared food offerings and everything else. Lien donates a percentage of the store’s profits to 1 Percent of the Planet. Certified organic, non-GMO and humanely raised, grass-fed or pastured beef, vegetarian-fed and cage-free/free-range chickens and their eggs, and wild, sustainably caught fish are the mantras here.
Right now, the deli is closed, so staples like their chicken waldorf salad, roasted roots and quinoa are stacked in front of the deli counter, along with a limited amount of fresh-pressed juices.
They have over 10,000 customers in their loyalty program, Lien said.
Lien, whose mom Lynne Dougherty started the store, said food allergies uptick the demand. “We have gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and also vegan, vegetarian and paleo items,” he said.
Lien ’s sister, Michelle Giovanniello, who works at the store, spoke about her allergy challenges. “I have a lot of food issues and I can’t get certain things in other places,” she said.
So what are customers buying more of since the pandemic?
“All of our zinc and vitamin C has been completely cleared out,” Lien said, adding even being able to get those items now is a challenge. “Our produce has gone through the roof.” Not surprising, as the organically grown array is fresh, bountiful and colorful, most from local farms. “In the beginning, it was beans and rice,” Lien said.
It’s a long day in the trenches, Lien said. His hours start at 7 a.m. and end well after 8 p.m.
“I’ve seen a lot of new faces since the coronavirus,” he said, shaking his head and adding it has been almost a strange blessing because of the increase in business. “But having that persistent, positive energy and keeping it up is a challenge.”