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Foods of All Nations brings ethnic foods to town

Foods of All Nations, a store that boasts a full line of grocery items and a vast selection of exotic fare from countless international countries, will celebrate its 46th year serving the Charlottesville community Sunday.

Among the events planned for the second annual "Foods Cruise" from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., is the participation of 30 vendors who will display their products and offer visitors complimentary food samples, an outdoor barbecue, prizes, and gift certificates.

In addition to community members, all students and faculty from the University are invited to attend. Last year's event drew about 2,000 people and 2,500 are expected this year. Mike Brennan, general manager of FOAN for nearly three years, said annual celebrations have been planned until the 50th anniversary of the store in 2002.

The idea for a store like FOAN came to entrepreneur Donald King in the mid-1940s. He originally decided on the name "7 Day Market" because it was one of the few stores that would be open every day of the week. Although it opened in 1946 on Preston Avenue as a convenience store, seven years later it moved to Barracks Road and the name was changed to Foods of All Nations, because of its expanding variety of ethnic foods, Brennan said.

While located on Barracks Road, the store caught the attention of Craig Claiborne of the New York Times, when he commented that FOAN was "an asset to any community." This quotation later became the slogan on the store's sign.

The establishment made its final move to larger accommodations on Ivy Road in 1968 because of its increasing product line and growing clientele.

Today, the store that began as a small convenience store carries 15,000 items that have been imported from all around the globe, makes over 30,000 transactions per month, and employs 85 people.

Keith King, son of FOAN founder Donald King, owns two other convenience stores in the area.

Brennan and Paige Lynch, a longtime FOAN employee, explained the store's diversity. Among the varieties of exotic edibles are emu meat, rattlesnake, sushi, sauces, spices and marinades, coffee and tea, seafood and kosher foods that are imported from Asia, Europe and Africa.

Brennan said service is an important aspect of the store, which prides itself in "being receptive to customers' requests."

Over the years, these are the qualities that have made FOAN what it is today. As a testament to the store's desire to serve the community, it offers delivery or shipping services. Lynch said FOAN also delights in customer loyalty -- some of the original customers have stayed with the store over the years, and some of their children now shop there as well.

Lynch explained that some rare ethic items available in the store are Russian caviar, French and Swiss cheeses, German chocolates and Italian white truffle oil.

Products alone are not what make FOAN unique, however. It has what it calls the "walkaround," where many students come for a prepared sandwich, an international deli, a sushi bar, dinners to go and custom gift baskets, which are especially popular around the holidays.

"The customers say that Tom is the best sushi chef in town," Brennan said.

The store also has greeted many interesting people over the years, including famous figures such as Ted Kennedy and William Faulkner, a student and professor at the University, respectively. When asked about visits of modern day celebrities, store employees opted to let them remain nameless.

During a radio interview July 7, Lynch, an employee for nearly 50 years, recalled that the store's initial success can be attributed to Donald King, whose persistence and competitiveness helped him achieve and enabled the business to survive.

Within the same interview, Brennan explained that the North African, Middle Eastern, Greek and Chinese sections of the store are among the most interesting.

Lynch said FOAN recently launched a new campaign, called the International Country of the Month, featuring a 10 percent discount on products that were made in and shipped from that month's country. Germany is next month's featured country.

February 9 of this year, the store was awarded the 1998 Commissioner's Award for best Virginia food in the state from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Customer Service.

As FOAN approaches its half-century anniversary, thoughts have arisen about the future of the business. Brennan said tentative plans are to branch out and form similar businesses in bigger cities than Charlottesville, such as Norfolk or Richmond, and to begin selling on the Internet.

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