Downtown Tacoma residents, workers, and visitors may soon have a new choice when it comes to fresh, healthy, grab-and-go food.

Abbie Cates, owner of Gig Harbor-based Knife Fork Spoon, plans to open Flip Fresh, a small-scale specialty food store, on Antique Row in October.

“The store will focus on three things: community, being a food incubator space, and bringing fun into people’s lives,” Cates explained. “Our store is designed to be easily navigated — no long, mind-numbing aisles here — and is full of items to nourish your body and soul.”

Cates entered the food industry 18 months ago when she started Knife Fork Spoon. She recently rebranded her business to Flip Food Company, which includes Flip Frozen (Knife Fork Spoon), and Flip Fresh (the downtown Tacoma store).

Tacoma’s history is mottled when it comes to downtown grocery stores. City Grocer IGA opened to much fanfare in 2011 — it was the first full-service grocery store downtown in nearly 40 years — but closed three years later. Meanwhile, smaller convenience stores such as D Town Market and Mini Market & Deli have endured.

Cates is confident her vision for Flip Fresh, a 1,500-square-foot store that will be located at 728 Broadway, will work because it is an “atypical” grocery store; a place where shoppers can go online to order locally produced food for lunch or dinner and have those items delivered to their office or home. She also hopes the store will help to change downtown Tacoma from a “food desert,” where fresh and healthy food is difficult to find, to a food oasis.

South Sound Business spoke with Cates to learn more about Flip Fresh.

Q: What is your plan for opening Flip Fresh in downtown Tacoma?

A: I realized that there was a huge opportunity in the downtown Tacoma area for grab-and-go healthy foods. Our own foods from Flip Frozen will be there. Those are dinner kits and side dishes that go from the freezer to the oven and, in about half an hour, dinner is on the table and ready to go. We don’t add any preservatives or things like that.

On the consumer side, it’s healthy food that can be easily ordered, delivered, and at your desk. Or it’s grab-and-go dinners. That sort of thing.

In addition, I wanted to give other small, community food producers an opportunity more than just the farmer’s markets. It’s an incubator space. It’s a place where food producers can try out their new products, learn, and grow their businesses.

Q: Do you have any food producers lined up whose products will be in the store and available for shoppers?

A: I do. I have talked with Kombucha Yum, which is a wonderful Kombucha drink made in (Lakewood). Fish Bark (Treat Co.) offers some amazing dog food products made with real fish products. There’s a honey company (in Puyallup) called Bee King’s. There’s an oatmeal and dessert company called Trixie’s Desserts. The Art of Crunch, which is a biscotti company (in Tacoma). Blackjack Farms, which does raw milk. Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes, which is a gluten- and dairy-free cupcake producer in Olympia. Also, I will have fresh salads and cut fruits from a local produce distributor I already use for my frozen food business.

Q: There was a grocery store owned by IGA in downtown Tacoma for a little while, but it ended up closing. There has been a long discussion about whether downtown Tacoma can support a grocery store. Are you familiar with that discussion, as well as IGA trying to make a go of it?

A: I am familiar with that discussion. I have talked to a lot of folks downtown about what their needs are, and I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with some current business owners that have coffee shops or other food-related businesses and asked them what their needs are. What do their customers say they wished they had? That’s what I’ve built my business around — the concept that people have to go either to the Stadium Thriftway or the Safeway on M Street; the concept that when you are in the downtown area and you didn’t bring your lunch, the options for something other than takeout are very limited. That’s the thought process. I think that because I’m going about it differently than a typical grocery store — I really want this to be an experience — that will be the differentiating piece.

So, is there concern because of history? Not really. I think I’m just a little bit different enough. And the beauty of being a small business is that I can be very flexible and very dynamic and change according to my customers’ needs. I can pivot very easily.

Q: What do Flip Fresh and Flip Food Company mean? Is there anything behind the word ‘flip’?

A: There absolutely is. I have a science and engineering background. In the past 18 months since I started Knife Fork Spoon, I transitioned from an engineering job — I was a workforce development specialist at the shipyard in Bremerton for 13 years. Getting into the food industry was really a super exciting change. Every day I have learned something new, and every day a piece of that information always makes me pause and think, “Gosh, the food industry can really do this differently. It would be awesome if we could change X, Y, and Z.” So, when I rebranded, I decided to name it Flip because one day at a time we can flip the food industry to be focused on consumers looking for health-conscious food. That’s where the name comes from — I want to flip the industry on its head.