Q&A with 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Co-Op & Deli: An inclusive, vegan-friendly market in Fort Wayne

Just north of downtown, 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Co-Op & Deli (@3riversfoodcoop) at 1612 Sherman Blvd. is dedicated to providing shoppers with organic, non-GMO, and natural food and wellness items. Several of the items it carries are sourced locally, including Old Fort Soap Company (@oldfortsoapco), True Kimchi (@true.kimchi), and Windrose Urban Farm mushrooms (@windrose_farm). 

3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op & Deli is located at 1612 Sherman Blvd.

Additionally, the Co-Op offers an extensive wellness section, featuring homeopathic and natural health solutions and beauty products. They also offer ethically sourced artisanal textiles, such as wraps, shaws, and baskets. 

In the deli, you’ll find ready-to-eat treats, like pot de creme, broccoli salad, meatless chicken salad, and diced fruit. There's a large selection of menu items for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.

The Co-Op is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. We sat down with Front End & Marketing Manager Heather Grady for seven questions. Heather Grady is Front End & Marketing Manager at 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op & Deli.
  1. What’s your favorite thing about the Co-Op? 

HG: Community! We have some families who have been shoppers since the beginning (1976) on Broadway! And others who pop in every day (some twice!). It has that feeling where “everybody knows your name,” and that is hard to come by these days. 

As the Front End Manager I try to foster that feeling among our staff at the register and with my own greeting as I walk through the store. Our new “Double Up Indiana” program gives half-off all produce for folks paying with EBT (what used to be called “food stamps”). I feel like we are adding more frequent shoppers who are glad to see their dollars stretch a little further. 

It’s pretty awesome to be part of this program via a partnership with the St Joseph Community Health Foundation. I hope the word gets out, and we can get lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to folks who will enjoy them.  

2. What are the benefits of becoming a member or "owner" at the Co-Op? 

HG: You don't need a membership to shop here, but I always say the number one benefit of becoming a member or "owner" is supporting a local business that brings healthy options (and community) to our city. 

Every member represents a household that wants to see a store like ours in Fort Wayne. We do have tangible benefits too. We offer discounts on a few items, like reusable shopping bags and water jug refills, 10 percent off case orders, special monthly owner-only bonus buys, and savings postcards sent out once or twice a year, if feasible. 

Many of our owner perks are on hold due to the continuing supply chain uncertainty (due to the pandemic). If we aren’t sure we’ll be able to get it for your shelf, then we don’t want to tell you we’ll order extra in for you or offer a special sale and not be able to get enough for the shelf. 

About 20 percent of our orders don’t come in due to supplier issues or vendor out-of-stocks. COVID really did a number on the supply chain, and things aren’t fixed yet. We also have a fun party for our owners in October to celebrate our birthday. This year we’ll be 45 years old! Owners may also run for and vote for our board of directors. Directors shape policy and monitor our General Manager. We have a few spots coming open, and we are currently taking applications. We currently have more than 2,100 household memberships!

3. What’s your favorite deli item? 

HG: Staff members get a meal discount in the deli, and I take advantage of that! I drink a latte with oat milk and sometimes a flavor shot about every day. My dinners are most often also from the grab-n-go section where we have heat-at-home entrees like Polish Lasagna, Cheese Lasagna, Quorn Pasta Toss, Scalloped Potatoes, and Mongolian Tofu. Very vegetarian (and vegan) friendly! We also have delicious bakery items, like almond scones, our signature Black Magic cake, and super yummy cookies.

4. What’s your favorite non-food item in the store? 

HG: I’d have to say our accessories! Our buyer, Lydia, finds some fun things to wear to stock. I have a full collection of legwarmers (which sadly we haven’t been able to get the last 2 winters) and many, many scarves. All are from fair-trade sources, which I love to support. I’ve purchased a number of scarves when I notice there is one on the sales floor that matches my outfit better than the one I have on! 

Ethically made fashion at 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op & Deli.

Scarves at 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op & Deli.

5. Do you feature any vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free items in your deli? 

HG: Many! My list above is just a start on the vegetarian (some are also vegan) options. We feature a vegan (and gluten free) soup every day. Most of our deli sandwiches and all of our coffee drinks can be veganized AT NO UPCHARGE! Pretty much every other coffee shop in town charges extra for a milk swap. It’s so great to be able to make these swaps with no additional cost. 

Our Tofu Ruben is probably our most popular sandwich among the veg crowd. It’s easily made vegan with a cheese swap. Several of our cold deli salads are vegetarian or vegan, including our Vegan Crunchy Chik’n Salad. We also have a vegan orange cake available most of the time. 

For those needing gluten-free, we offer bread options for our made-to-order sandwiches (no upcharge here either), gluten-free cupcakes (also vegan), and gluten-free brownies made by locally-owned vegan and gluten-free friendly Pembroke Bakery. Many of our heat-and-eat entrees are also gluten-free. 

The Deli menu at 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op & Deli.

6. What locally sourced produce or products can be found at the Co-Op? 

HG: We source locally when we can with some things just being available seasonally. Our produce department is currently adding new items as the growing season continues. We are now featuring locally grown produce from Broxenberry, Joyfield Farm, Berry Hill, and Son Light Farm. And we just added microgreens from Something Better with Beth! Outside of produce, we also carry the award-winning True Kimchi; fermented foods from Young Urban Homesteaders and Farming for Life; cheese from Turkeyfoot Creamery and Hufford Dairy; goat milk from Goat & Small; cow milk and butter from Small Acres; and locally roasted coffee from Conjure (@conjure.coffee), Yellow Cup, and our signature co-op roasts (that I helped create!) from Old Crown. We also get deliveries of baked goods from GK Baked Goods (@gkbakedgoods) twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Bagels, hand pies, pretzel epis, English muffins, and more! 

While I don’t tend to gravitate toward bread-type items, I do always have GK at my house. (The bagels and pretzel buns make excellent breakfast sandwiches!)

7. How much does it cost to be an owner at the Co-Op? 

HG: The equity fee is $200 total, but you can take as long as eight years to get that paid off. With our installment plan, you pay $25 per year (until $200 is reached), plus $12 annual membership dues, for a total of $37 per year until equity is reached. Once your $200 is paid off, it's only $12 per year. That's cheaper than a membership to a big box club store, and you can rest assured that you're supporting a locally owned business! 

That said, we appreciate all our shoppers, no matter their level of involvement. We're just about awesome food for awesome people! Go, Co-Op!