The shop at 10 Mechanic Street is part cafe, part gift shop, and part test kitchen of a local food business positioned for national growth.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 7, 2023
For people with food sensitivities, finding a snack that won’t leave them feeling worse than hungry — let alone finding one that tastes good — can often be a challenge.
But one Haddonfield family is setting out to create a space where guests can be confident in the integrity of its menu.
Sparrow’s Gourmet Snacks, a joint venture from Michelle and Ryan Sparrow and their daughter, Abigail, is not only developing its own line of all-natural foods, but curating a selection of goods with clean production processes.
“We have really thought about every single item, who eats it, and what that will mean for them from an allergen perspective and from a taste perspective,” Michelle Sparrow said.
“We’re working to provide really high-quality foods that are sensitive to what people need.”
The Sparrows are positioning their Haddonfield storefront as the flagship store of their fledgling national food brand. It’s part test kitchen, part gift shop, and part café. The business already includes a stall in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and a Pennsauken-based production facility.
Some of its products, like fresh popcorn and fairy floss, are made to order while guests watch.
The antique popcorn wagon in the shop is a 100-year-old workhorse that harkens back to the snack cart business that young Ryan Sparrow operated at racetracks across the Midwest on the cusp of his career as a food scientist.
“It was my dad’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) project,” Ryan Sparrow said.
“It was what paid my way through college; it’s where I learned business.”
Michelle Sparrow, who retired from a career as a healthcare leader in 2020, never lost interest in helping her family to eat as cleanly as possible.
With the new business, she’s applying her careful eye for all-natural food products to cultivating a pantry of items that not only taste good, but are safe for people with ingredient sensitivities.
“They’re all brands that we really care about,” she said. “There’s a reason we carry them.”
The onsite kitchen at Sparrow’s pumps out fresh-baked potato chips, mini corn dogs and funnel cakes from Fox & Son of Philadelphia, pretzels and “pretzoli” (pretzel stromboli) from A&A Soft Pretzels of Oaklyn, and toaster pastries and mini lemon pound cakes from Little Brown Bird Bakery, the Sparrow’s in-house, gluten-free bakery brand.
“We’re just trying to make things taste great, so that people who need that gluten-free or allergen-friendly experience can eat the products that they couldn’t eat anymore,” Ryan Sparrow said.
The family acquired the property at 10 Mechanic Street in January 2021, then gutted it and started fresh, from the state-of-the-art drainage system in its patio, to the new electrical service, roof, and ceiling beams.
The shop features several custom furnishings, including its laser-cut signage, a floor-to-ceiling glass “nana wall” that divides the storefront from its outdoor space, and elaborate kitchen and bathroom tile jobs.
Michelle Sparrow credits a deep collaboration among Haddonfield borough professionals, her design team, and the multiple engineering firms who labored “to make sure that everything was better than when we started.
“The whole project was an investment in the community to make it a responsible building,” she said.
“Everything is new, and now it’s ready for the next several generations.”
In short, the Mechanic Street storefront is “kind of our love letter to Haddonfield,” where Ryan and Michelle raised Abigail and her sisters, Michelle Sparrow said.
“It’s really for us to say to Haddonfield, ‘We care about this town,’” she said.
“It’s also an opportunity for us to interface with our customers, and get to know their likes and dislikes. We can adapt, adopt, or abandon [products] based on customer feedback.”
Sparrow’s Snacks is located at 10 Mechanic Street in downtown Haddonfield. The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit the business website, or stop by September 9 for the the grand opening.
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