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May 04. 2013 3:29AM

Francestown General Store owners selling out


Jennifer Martel and her husband, Jason, are selling the Francestown General Store in order to expand their heat-and-eat wholesale food business. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER/Union Leader Correspondent)
FRANCESTOWN - Though owners Jason and Jennifer Martel are ready to leave the Francestown General Store behind, they are taking the successful product line, Francestown Village Foods, with them when they move to Milford.

The Martels bought the historic general store, which will turn 200 years old in 2014, a decade ago and stocked the shelves with local products, high-end deli meats and an expansive offering of more than 400 kinds of beer.

But not content with simply running a store, which they are now selling, the Martels partnered with chef Michael Webb to create a line of heat-and-eat meals using fresh, local meats and produce. In the second floor of the general store, a fixture in Francestown since 1814, the Martels and Webb built a USDA-approved kitchen and packaging facility, and Francestown Village Foods was born.

"In that kitchen, we've made over 30,000 burritos," said Jennifer Martel, "all rolled by hand."

In addition to burritos, Francestown Village Foods offers two sizes of frozen meals - a smaller microwavable meal that feeds two, and a large, oven-baked four-person meal. Comfort foods like shepherd's pie and lasagna are two of the food line's staples, but there are also more exotic flavors like chicken or shrimp curry with rice. Webb and the Martels first started selling the meals at the general store, but were soon distributing the hand-made meals statewide. Now the meals have found their way to shelves at supermarkets like Hannaford, Shaw's and Star Market in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

"We're currently making around 3,000 meals a week," Webb said. "We've absolutely maxed out our space upstairs."

So Francestown Village Foods is moving to Milford, to an 8,200-square-foot space in Granite Town Plaza.

"It's a big empty box, but we're turning it into a USDA-approved facility," Webb said.

The facility will initially be staffed by the company's nine employees - including the Martels and Webb - and the focus will be on remaining true to the product's roots.

"We're still going to work with local farmers," Webb said. "And there's no reason for us to go the machinery route. If we need to increase production, we'll just add more people."

In the meantime, the Martels need to find a new owner for the store. It's listed at $599,000 with Country Brokers in Francestown and includes the business and the historic building, Jennifer Martel said.

"It's time for someone else to step in and bring new life to this place before its 200th birthday next year," she said.

For more information visit http://francestownvillagestore.intuitwebsites.com/Index.html.



nfoster@newstote.com

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