EVELETH — Ben and Kelly DeNucci are excited about their new venture in the Eveleth grocery business, and local shoppers, business owners and the mayor share that excitement.
The DeNuccis of Nashwauk have purchased the Eveleth IGA, operated nearly 40 years by Al Zupancich, who died last June.
"Everyone from the store's loyal patrons to local business owners to the mayor and the folks at City Hall have expressed what it means to them. It's easy to get on board when you have that kind of support," the DeNuccis said.
"While the news is about new owners, the story is not really about Ben and Kelly," they said. "We're just excited about our role in something important that has been established here for many years. We are excited to be a part of this place that is special and important to so many people."
In a Mesabi Tribune story last June, employees and Eveleth business owners remembered Zupancich as a "pillar in the community."
Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich told of a recent visit to the store. "I was shopping at the IGA on a Sunday and had an opportunity to meet the new owners of the store. Mr. DeNucci and his wife were organizing the office area when I came in. I was so excited to have experienced and successful grocery store owners purchase the store. It was a great conversation, and they have some needed upgrades planned for the operation. I offered any help they needed from the city to make this acquisition a success. Under the ownership of Al Zupancich, the IGA became an integral part of our community."
The DeNuccis are natives of Nashwauk on the West Range, and Kelly's training “is in business, accounting and bookkeeping, and I have a bachelor of science degree in facilities management along with a minor in business from North Dakota State University. We have been married for 18 years and have three dogs, Lola, Gus, and Linus," he said.
Brittany spaniels Lola, 18, and Gus, 14, are mother and son, and Linus, 5, is a Shih tzu.
Ben DeNucci talked about his beginnings in business in Nashwauk, where he and Tony Fragnito are partners in the Nashwauk Market, formerly Fred's Market owned by Larry and Vickie Majewski.
"When our hometown grocery store owners were wanting to retire after long and successful careers, the opportunity arose with the Nashwauk Market. We thought it would be a great business opportunity, but also felt very strongly about keeping the local grocery store open in the community and keeping the hard-working staff employed,” he said. “Knowing there was a great group of experienced workers in place, we decided to take action and make it happen. That was three and a half years ago."
Ben DeNucci said there are many similarities to that story when it comes to the Eveleth Market. “It became very clear to us how important the grocery store in Eveleth is to those that live in the community. What makes this place special and important is the people that work here: Dean Spragg is a tremendous butcher that oversees one of the best meat departments you'll find anywhere," Ben DeNucci said.
Spragg began working as a carryout boy at Eveleth Country Foods IGA in 1988 when he was 18.
DeNucci praised the Eveleth Market employees. "The Eveleth Market deli is so popular because of the hard work, care and pride the team in the deli takes to feed so many people everyday. Everyone from the cashiers bagging groceries to the guys who clean the floors work hard and should be proud of the work they do. These are your friends, neighbors, and maybe even relatives that are serving you everyday so that they can pay their bills and feed their families. Supporting a hometown grocery store makes that happen."
While the DeNuccis did not know Zupancich, they said, "We know he was a beloved and respected member of the community. We've enjoyed hearing stories and memories from those in the store about him. His legacy lives on through these memories, photos and his awards displayed in the store. We hope to do that legacy justice.
"We look forward to making repairs and investments into something Al started years ago. We appreciate all of the support and assistance the City of Eveleth has provided to support those future efforts."