Ocean, NJ; Basking Ridge, NJ—Hurricane Sandy wasn’t very kind to Dean’s Natural Food Market, New Jersey’s largest organic grocer with locations in Ocean, Shrewsbury and soon-to-open Basking Ridge. The 7,400 ft2 Ocean location was hit hardest by Sandy, with power outages and store closures for 10 days, says owner and founder Dean Nelson.

Fresh Foods employee stocking the sandwich case

Nelson faced a devastating loss of almost $75,000 worth of products, with four of his employees temporarily losing their homes, but he didn’t let this keep everyone’s spirits down. After the power went out, Nelson and his workers quickly began reaching out to their community by collecting any items they could salvage from the store like bread, cheese and drinks, and personally delivering them by car to the hardest hit areas along the shore. “I literally drove around and handed things out to utility workers. We tried to hit everyone we could. We ended up giving a lot of food away,” says Nelson. Anything left over went to the local food bank. Nelson’s team also publicized the needs of their local SPCA to help animals who lost their homes.

Somehow in the midst of all this chaos, Nelson was still able to pay all of his workers for the time they were out of business. He thanks the insurance companies for their quick reimbursements, but in the end, Nelson says, “You have to do the right thing; [my employees] have bills, too. Of all the things we’ve done in the past 17 years to embrace our coworkers, that had the biggest impact. We went the extra mile.”

Dean Nelson with Courtney Pineau, assistant director of Non-GMO Project, at an event held in Shrewsbury store

Nelson also praises his distributor Tree of Life for helping get his stores back on track by making extra deliveries. Once Dean’s was up and running with full power, they no longer needed help from vendors, so instead he accepted donations for his community. “We have two pallets of water coming in that we are able to strategically give to the people who need it the most,” Nelson states. “I’m really humbled by the companies reaching out that enable us to help.”

And, always with an eye on helping the community, Dean’s offered a deep discount to help shoppers restock their pantries after the storm.

Even though hurricane Sandy made a dent, Nelson is still looking toward the future. While the storm set back the plans a few weeks, the new 5,000 ft2 store in Basking Ridge is due to open at the beginning of December. WF


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Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2013 (online 11/26/12)