A vacant former Burger King in Barberton is being transformed into the new home of a fledgling fruit snack company that has attracted national attention.
Peaceful Fruits, which was featured on ABC TV’s “Shark Tank” early last year and is now in Akron, plans to rent with an option to buy the former fast-food eatery owned by the city of Barberton.
“I actually said no when Barberton officials suggested the Burger King,” said Evan Delahanty, owner of Peaceful Fruits, which makes fruit strips with acai berries and other fruits.
Delahanty, 33, explained that he hadn’t yet seen the inside of the onetime Burger King at 101 E. Tuscarawas Ave. when city officials pitched it as a possibility.
He had a hard time envisioning that the place would have enough room to serve as both a production facility and headquarters.
“Then I saw that it’s now just wide open space with a kitchen,” he said, “and we wouldn’t have to build that kitchen space” needed for production.
Delahanty employs nearly 30 part-time workers — adults with developmental disabilities — to make and package the all-natural, gluten-free fruit snacks. They work at the former Food Hub in Akron that is up for sale.
This facility, west of downtown Akron, opened in 2016 as a small produce market and commercial food processing kitchen. It was built and operated by the nonprofit Hattie Larlham as a way to provide work to adults with disabilities. Hattie Larlham, facing financial pressures, closed the market about a year after it opened. Delahanty remained a tenant of the facility.
Barberton Mayor Bill Judge said city officials “really enjoy and appreciate [Delahanty's] mission,” which includes providing employment to people with disabilities. Delahanty works with the nonprofit Blick Center in Akron that serves people with disabilities.
Delahanty said the former Burger King has enough room for him to supply an area where an occupational therapist can work one-on-one with some of the workers.
Barberton bought the vacant Burger King a couple of years ago for $50,000. The city paid for the property with Community Development Block Grant money awarded by the federal government.
The city then pumped another $30,000 in block grant money into gutting the property — taking out the booths, counter top and interior walls — “to make that big open space,” Joe Stefan, Barberton’s planning director, said.
“The building was in very good shape structurally. Burger Kings were built with steel beams,” Judge noted.
Delahanty has received a $50,000 loan from the city and the Summit County Land Bank that is being used to further prepare the building for Peaceful Fruits. An existing cooler is being repaired and a new furnace, hot water tank and air-conditioning unit were installed and the electrical system upgraded.
If Delahanty remains at the site for three years, the loan will be forgiven. He is investing $75,000 into the property.
“It’s pretty cool to see a smaller town like Barberton get on board and turn an old Burger King into the production [area] and headquarters of a small startup,” said Delahanty, who lives in the Akron area.
'Social good' mission
Delahanty started working on his Peaceful Fruits venture after serving two years with the Peace Corps as a project manager and community economic development specialist in the Amazon.
He says the company’s “social good” mission includes using acai berries — touted for their high concentration of antioxidants — that are picked in the wild in the Amazon region in Brazil.
Harvesting the berries is a way for people to make money without turning to logging and mining and hurting the forest.
Last year, Delahanty appeared on “Shark Tank,” the TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ventures to a panel of "shark" investors.
He failed to get a deal with one of the “sharks,” but he created a buzz for his snacks, selling about 25,000 of the fruit strips within about 12 hours after the show's airing.
With sales totaling about $150,000 last year, Delahanty doesn’t draw much of a salary. He works part-time as a martial arts instructor.
He has plans to grow, and in the past year, he’s hired two people to be a part of his management team and a full-time employee who works as production leader.
About 50 percent of Peaceful Fruits sales are online. The snacks can be found at local retailers such as Mustard Seed, Krieger's Market, a few Acme Fresh Markets and Constantino’s in Cleveland. The snacks also are in about a dozen Target stores, and Delahanty recently struck a deal for 50 Kroger’s grocery stores in Ohio to carry them.
In Barberton, city officials are marketing other city-owned properties in hopes of attracting businesses.
They include 4.5 acres of vacant land that previously housed the old Shamrock motel and nightclub on Norton Avenue, across from Decker Park.
Also available is 3.5 acres of vacant land at Wooster Road and 16th Street, across from West End Hardware, and 2.5 acres of land on 15th Street and Brady Avenue that previously was the site of a parking lot for the former Seiberling Tire Co.
The city learned earlier this week that Babcock & Wilcox is moving roughly 650 jobs from Barberton to Akron. B&W’s new corporate offices will be in the East End Offices, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s former headquarters on East Market Street. The move is expected to take place no later than next summer.
Stefan, the Barberton planning director, said city officials already are working with the two companies planning to purchase, redevelop and repurpose B&W’s five-building campus on South Van Buren Avenue in Barberton. Those companies are the two partners in the East End development in Akron, Industrial Realty Group and Industrial Commercial Properties.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or https://www.facebook.com/KatieByardABJ.