There’s been a grocery store at Central Avenue and Camelback Road in central Phoenix since 1955. It’s a destination for businesspeople, students and everyday shoppers alike.
AJ's Fine Foods
5017 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Original grand-opening date
Total square footage
Selling area square feet
6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
So when Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’ Family of Stores finally earmarked this AJ’s Fine Foods location for a remodel, it had to be special.
The result, which included a 5,000-square-foot addition, retains the store’s classic heritage while taking a great leap forward in freshness.
“Our goal was to enhance our already expansive offerings, update the overall look and feel to match the store exterior and center upgrades, and add unique features that reaffirm a sense of community and connection for our customers,” says Jayson Mead, the banner’s director of operations.
The remodel gave AJ’s a chance to play catch-up on a few things. “This location has some of our longest and most loyal customers,” Mead notes. “They didn’t have certain things, and they felt left out.”
For example, a sushi bar — there’s finally space for one. Of course, made-to-order sushi is nothing new for grocery stores, so AJ’s had to take it up a notch by adding an assortment of beers on tap, along with wine and sake, for patrons to enjoy while watching the expert sushi chefs hand-roll their orders.
“Our sales are up hundreds of percent — it’s just crazy,” remarks Danny Hosler, the meat, produce, floral and seafood specialist for AJ’s. The sushi bar is enhanced by an 8-foot grab-and-go case for folks who don’t have time to linger. “It sells out daily,” Hosler says. “One of our biggest issues is trying to keep up with it.”
Being special is a must, especially for a store located at what was recently named the “hottest intersection” in metro Phoenix by Urban Land Institute Arizona, a nonprofit land-use organization. Plus it’s the anchor of historic Uptown Plaza, which has been undergoing a center-wide revitalization, taking it back to its mid-century modern roots.
The store is in an urban setting with historic neighborhoods and family homes around the corner, high schools across the street, high-rise office and residential buildings within walking distance, and easy access to light-rail transportation. “Each of these [new store] features brings an element of support to the immediate area,” Mead says, “which enhances our connection to the neighborhood and solidifies the store as a community hub.”
A Culinary Journey
The Central and Camelback store emerged from its refresh a unique location among the 11 locations operating under the AJ’s banner. “The décor and color palette of this location are unlike anything in the rest of the division, and make a visual impact as soon as you walk into the store,” Mead says.
But beyond the appearance, it’s the amenities that set this location apart, starting with the aforementioned sushi bar. “It’s our first store with a wine bar, which features eight wines on tap that change every four to six weeks,” Mead says. “This location is also the first to offer nitro coffee and to have kombucha on tap.”