Some familiar names – Carroll’s Corn, Bravo Espresso Coffee, Pasquale’s pizza and even the legendary Bunnie's Coconut Cake – are showing up on Rochester grocery shelves that weren’t there before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last few weeks, Hy-Vee staffers have reached out to some Rochester businesses to bring their products into the stores.

“If we can help them (local small businesses) in any way, it’s nice to do so,” said Hy-Vee Crossroads’ Manager of Perishables Bret Peterson. “It gives people more options with things they are already familiar with. Hopefully, we’re creating a little bit of normalcy during this time.”

Selling bags of his specialty popcorn in Rochester grocery stores is more than a helping hand for Pat Carroll. It’s a life preserver for his business.

“We’d be dead without it… If we didn’t have Hy-Vee, we would probably be closed,” the owner of Carroll's Corn said.

It started simply. Hy-Vee asked for one of Carroll’s large party bags of popcorn to sell, after Carroll’s manager Seamus Kolb suggested putting the $10 medium bags in the store.

The first 33 bags sold out in a couple days, quickly followed by another 33 bags.

Bret Peterson, manager of perishables at the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest, stocks Canadian Honker Bunnie's Coconut Cakes Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Bret Peterson, manager of perishables at the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest, stocks Canadian Honker Bunnie's Coconut Cakes Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Carroll says Hy-Vee is now selling 2,200 bags of popcorn a week through its four Rochester stores.

“They (Hy-Vee) come and get it almost every day. We just have to make it fresh and package it up … It’s worked out great. We get to keep keep all of our people working,” said Carroll. “It’s a win-win for us and Hy-Vee … and now we can pay our rent.”

For Chef Pasquale Presa, the connection with Hy-Vee meant being able to create new products and new ways to offer food from Paquale’s Pizzeria to customers.

Presa said that Hy-Vee’s Peterson has been trying to get his food into the grocery stores since last year. They started with tomatoes and the dry pasta Presa uses at his restaurant.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck..

“Bret nudged me. He said, ”We need it now,” Presa said. That led to take-and-bake pizzas arriving on Hy-Vee shelves on May 4.

Presa is also working on developing branded frozen microwavable meals to join his pizzas in Hy-Vee.

“This whole craziness has caused us to develop different lines of revenue to offset the restaurant’s revenue being down about 30 to 40 percent,” Presa said. “You never could have predicted this four or five years ago … that we could survive through this. We’re trying our best.”

If the City of Rochester had an official favorite cake, it would probably be Bunnie’s Coconut Cake from the Canadian Honker restaurant. That spurred Hy-Vee to ask Honker manager Nick Powers to put his grandmother’s famous cake in the grocery’s bakery display.

On May 20, Hy-Vee started selling the cake and very quickly 25 whole cakes, plus 40 to 50 individual pieces, were sold.

Bret Peterson, manager of perishables at the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest, stocks Canadian Honker Bunnie's Coconut Cakes Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Bret Peterson, manager of perishables at the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest, stocks Canadian Honker Bunnie's Coconut Cakes Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“They keep calling and asking for more. You appreciate every single piece of business you get right now,” Powers said. “And the icing on the cake (pun intended) is that Grandma’s birthday was on Memorial Day. I wonder what she would have thought of this.”

Jay Johnson, manager and owner of Bravo Espresso, knows what he thinks of having Bravo coffee and T-shirts on sale in local grocery stores.

“It’s a heck of a nice thing that’s much appreciated. If we sell one bag of coffee, it’s a plus for us,” he said.

For Hy-Vee, these new relationships give the grocery store’s customers more reasons to shop at the stores during limited trips out.

Peterson said If people can pick up local coffee, pizzas, snacks and cake in one place, that’s good for both the store and the Rochester businesses.

“People are pleased to see these items in the stores,” he said.