MANKATO — Early in 2018, Hy-Vee’s store development department was hard at work tackling regulatory issues for a new Fast and Fresh store near the Minnesota State University campus.
By June of 2018, they had satisfied Mankato city staff, addressed wetland mitigation issues, answered neighborhood concerns with vegetative screening and outdoor lighting adjustments. With all hurdles cleared, the site was ready for construction. Then nothing happened for more than 14 months.
“We are still planning to build that Fast and Fresh location,” said Christina Gamen, public relations director for the supermarket chain. “We just don’t have a definitive timetable at this point.”
The wetland challenges of the location — a parcel at the corner of Stadium Road and Heron Drive on the southeast edge of the MSU campus — haven’t dissuaded the company, Gamen said. The store will still be built on that same parcel.
And the company remains enthusiastic about the new Fast and Fresh concept, which packs a number of amenities into what could be described as either a miniature supermarket or a mega-convenience store.
“It’s been very well-received,” she said. “It’s incredibly popular in Davenport and Altoona (Iowa). We’ve got another opening in Des Moines (this) week. That will be the third.”
The concept provides “grocery essentials,” a dairy department, fresh bakery items and hot food in a store that’s a fraction the size of a typical Hy-Vee but substantially larger than most convenience stores.
Plans submitted to the city of Mankato showed an 8,000-square-foot store — a quarter of the size of Hy-Vee’s downtown Mankato store but roughly double the size of the existing Kwik Trip at Stadium and Monks Avenue that will be the next-door neighbor to Fast and Fresh.
Along with groceries and fuel pumps, the proposed Mankato store included a Starbucks coffee shop with a small seating area and a Mia Pizza counter where customers would be able to pick from a variety of fresh pizza toppings and have the pie cooked in a wood-fired oven.
The store would also offer Hy-Vee’s Mealtime kits, which provide fresh ingredients for a meal that’s assembled and cooked at home. The Fast and Fresh is also expected to have the chain’s “Aisles Online” system where shoppers can submit a grocery list online that will be compiled at a full-sized Mankato Hy-Vee and left in lockers outside the Stadium Drive location for pickup by MSU students in nearby apartment buildings or by commuters heading to neighborhoods on Mankato’s south side.
A portion of the land where the new store is planned was owned by the city, and the City Council approved the sale in part because it would bring more grocery options to a part of town that is officially a “food desert.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as an urban area without a supermarket or large grocery store within one mile.
The size of the Fast and Fresh might not meet the criteria for a large grocery store, but it will give students and others in the area options they don’t currently have — eventually. Gamen said she would announce the construction schedule for Mankato whenever that decision is made.
“We have multiple locations planned throughout eight states,” she said.
The Iowa-based company is exploring Minnesota Fast and Fresh locations in Lakeville, Gem Lake and Columbus in the Twin Cities metro area, as well as Mankato, according to media reports.