A dynamic shopping experience

[Julie Garisto]

Home » Business
Posted March 15, 2023 | Julie Garisto

Beyond the banners and branding, Ocala’s new Bravo Supermarket recalls that friendly, bustling corner store of yesteryear — but with a Latin twist.

The new store at 8585 SW State Road 200 fills more than 17,800 of its square feet with grocery staples, imported products, meats and produce enjoyed by Latin cultures worldwide.

On its opening day, March 10, booths were set up to help customers shop for health care, and salsa music on Youtube playlists was piped in through speakers. The product signage and graphics colorfully contrasted with white-painted industrial lighting overhead, imparting a sleek, clean and contemporary ambiance.

“We are an international store,” emphasized store owner Jose Jorge. “We’re not only Hispanic. We offer products for most Americans and Europeans, and people from around the world. We have a little bit of everything; it’s a perfect mix.”

Of Marion County’s roughly 400,000 residents, around 16 % of them are native Spanish-speakers, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Bravo and its Spanish-speaking staff sell products imported from throughout Latin America and accommodate other ethnic groups with items they often cannot find at other local markets.

Special items

Plants from local nurseries decorate the produce department, where papaya, guava and coconut hold court with red ripe tomatoes on the vine and other salad staples. An assortment of greens, fresh herbs and vegetables line the wall, with culantro leaves, garlic, green peppers, and ajíes dulces (small sweet chile peppers), as well as a variety of dressings such as recaíto, a green aromatic puree of onions.

Front shelves stock Lakeridge Wines from Clermont, which can be sampled at periodic wine tastings.

A fully bilingual staff of clerks and managers accommodate native Spanish speakers while they indulge their sweet tooth at Bravo’s first in-store La Michoacána ice cream parlor. We recommend the Ferrero chocolate hazelnut.

Next to the ice-cream counter, a full-service deli features hot prepared foods (catering is available). Hot items include steaming-fresh empanadas, yuca fries, plantains, black beans and rice or pigeon peas and rice, pulled pork, chicharron and oxtail. Fresh seafood salads also are available.

The adjacent bakery displays fresh-baked pastries and custard-filled delights. Hot, fresh pan dulce, a soft-crusted, slightly sweet bread, beckons from an aisle cap.

There is no need to scarf it all down in your car or wait until you get home as you can enjoy a meal or dessert and coffee at one of the tables lining the front of the store.

Super-fresh aguas frescas are available by the ice cream counter. The cold drinks are prepared with fruits of the day blended with ice — plus, if preferred, a dollop of milk for creaminess.

At the back of the store, a full-service meat and seafood market hawks a wide variety of beef, pork and chicken, along with fresh-caught snapper and grouper; some chill on ice in their entirety. To the left, atypical organ meats, such as tripe (cow stomach lining) can be used to make mondongo.

According to Jorge’s wife, Damaris Jorge, the meat department sells custom cuts. She shows off a huge hunk of whole beef round picana, that she describes as a top-rump-roast favorite of Brazilian barbecues.

“We will have sales on our meat every week,” she stresses.

The self-styled ambassador assisted customers during the store’s grand opening festivities, standing out from the crowd in an elegant orange suit. Like her husband, she was born in the Dominican Republic.

When asked about products we couldn’t find, she said the store can accommodate special orders and product requests.

Damaris’ uncle, Belarmino Rodriguez, donated some of the recipes, handed down from her widowed grandmother, who sold baked goods and other items to make ends meet. Those recipes, she said, are used in many of the store’s desserts and cooked foods.

“He put his heart and soul into these recipes and made sure we can continue to honor them here in Ocala,” she shared.

Browsing the aisles, we see an impressive variety of herbs, some organic products and imported Jose Valdez coffee. It’s only available “ground,” not in whole bean packaging (as of opening week).

Asian products include tamari for Japanese recipes. You can also find kosher products or bulgar wheat for Middle Eastern tabouleh.

Some South American items, sadly, were missing during our visit, such as Colombian and Brazilian cheesebreads (pandebono, pao de queijo). Venezuela is South America’s most represented nation product-wise at the new Bravo.

For those who wish to make an Ecuadorian colada morada drink during fall’s Dia de Los Muertos festivities, the difficult-to-find naranjilla, also known as lulo in Colombia, is available in packaged pulp form. Next to it, guanabana (soursop) pulp can be used to make a juice or smoothie, a welcome alternative to over-sweetened nectars.

Some items are still on order. Tamarillos, a fruit-like nightshade also known as “tomato of the tree,” are not yet featured in the produce department but will be in the coming days, a store representative assured us.

Damaris pointed out the Intermix sign at the customer service counter. Intermix is a cash delivery service a bit like Western Union, she explained.

Note, some staples can cost a bit more. Customers have complained online about some prices on Google and Facebook. Make sure you do a cost comparison before you shop by searching online for weekly circulars (store fliers). Bravo Supermarket Ocala advertises its sales on its Facebook page (search Bravo Supermarket Ocala) and on Instagram (@Bravo_Ocala).

Independently owned

According to its website, Bravo Supermarkets are independently owned and operated.

According to “The Shelby Report,” Bravo is part of a “virtual” chain operated by New York-based Krasdale Foods and its marketing arm, Alpha 1 Marketing.

“We own the name and we let the independent operators run the stores,” said Dennis Wallin, a longtime grocery industry executive and executive vice president of Alpha 1 Marketing.

Ocala’s new Bravo Supermarket occupies a space once anchored by a Publix and a Save a Lot. The previous Bravo store is now a Key Foods Supermarket.

“We visited a Bravo in Brooklyn, N.Y., and wanted to bring it to the beautiful city of Ocala,” effused store owner Jorge, who likens Ocala to Tampa as a fast-growing city but with less traffic and more scenic tranquility.

Partnered with Instacart, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash, Ocala’s new Bravo Supermarket should be convenient and accessible to the western/southern perimeter of Marion County.





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