MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Fruits, vegetables and affordable living. Two co-owners are turning a former strip club into a grocery store in one of Madison’s food desert areas.
Friends Jerreh Kujabi and Batch Samba plan to open Gooh Groceries on East Washington Avenue — an area deemed a food desert, which lacks access to healthy food options. The upstairs of the store will become apartment units.
“There’s not just the food shortage in the neighborhood but also housing which is a bigger problem, not just here but in the entire city of Madison,” Kujabi said.
They bought the property, which was a former strip club, in 2021.
Besides a Kwik Trip, the nearest grocery store for residents on East Washington Avenue is a Hy-Vee which is nearly a mile away. This can be a difficult journey for people without cars because they would have to pass through major intersections.
“Most of them are low-income folks. They have challenges with transportation,” Kujabi said. “You can imagine having a single-family living in this neighborhood having two kids to cross East Washington to Hy-Vee and you have your groceries with a vehicle in the process.”
He says finding affordable housing is another issue in Madison.
“We are making major renovations there right now to turn those units into apartments so there would be a grocery store on the main level and the upstairs will be residential,” he said.
Through this journey. The duo found construction workers who understood their goals. Findorff Project Manager Cory Hansen says he enjoys working with Kujabi and Samba.
“They care about their community. they want to turn this building from its lighted past to something that is good for the community,” Hansen said.
As the project unfolded—Findorff Special Project Supervisor Brandon Johnson found remnants of the past, the building began as a casino.
“My favorite part of the project is the terrazzo floors that we discovered,” Johnson said. “We have them protected and covered but they are absolutely stunning. They were completely covered up and you would have no idea they were there.”
Kujabi says there is a high presence of West Africans and Hmong people. He says the store will be a regular grocery store with options that will make people feel at home.
“We’ll be carrying food stuff from different parts of Africa and also cater to the community that is here. it’s going to be mix,” Kujabi said. “You can pretty much find anything when you come here when we open.”
They are planning to finish construction by the spring to open by early summer.
Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.
Copyright 2023 WMTV. All rights reserved.