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Chef Joy’s Grocerant Builds Downtown Grocery Hub

By Jessica Maurer, posted Jun 5, 2024
After purchasing the former Better Basket grocery store in downtown Wilmington earlier this year, Joy Vunk rebranded the business as Chef Joy's Grocerant. (Photo by Jessica Maurer)
Chef Joy Vunk is passionate about both cooking and the grocery business. 

In January, she purchased Better Basket, a grocery store that’s operated at 143 N. Front St. since 2021, and rebranded it as Chef Joy’s Grocerant. A grocerant is a grocery store that sells prepared meals either to eat on-site or take home.

Before purchasing the business, Vunk served as the president of Better Basket. The store began in 2016 as Farmin’ on Front, a Farmin’ Brands division that closed following damages sustained during Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Vunk describes her role as building a downtown grocery store. She said it’s an ongoing process of finding the right mix of products to satisfy the downtown market. 

Since taking over the store, she’s made it a priority to make and assemble the store’s grab-and-go items in-house. The store previously brought in some of its sandwiches, salads and frozen entrees from other area distributors, despite having a commercial kitchen on site, Vunk said. Now, all baked goods, grab-and-go lunch items, frozen pizzas and casseroles and many dips are all homemade. 

“We do a very big grab-and-go business,” Vunk said. “We’re serving hundreds of people a day, and this is the model that makes sense – people want something quick and easy, yet healthy at the same time.”

In addition to the grab-and-go items, the grocerant carries a wide range of pantry staples from sugar and flour to rice and pasta sauce. There is also a fresh produce section and a large selection of cheeses and gourmet snacks. Many of the specialty snacks and condiments not produced on-site are locally or regionally made. Customers will find an array of sodas and juices along with wine and beer and a self-service coffee and tea bar. 

Vunk said she is proud to support local artisans and small businesses by offering locally produced goods and artwork. The store occasionally hosts wine tastings and live music, and Vunk hopes to one day incorporate cooking classes as well. 

“We want people to think of this as more than a grocery store,” Vunk said. “It’s more than just a place to shop and eat, it’s a community hub.”
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