Luna’s Groceries is officially open for business.

The 2,300-square-foot grocery store located at 2010 Red Arrow Trail in the heart of the Allied-Dunns Marsh neighborhood has been the dream of owners Mariam and Joe Maldonado for years. As of Monday, it is now a reality.

“We wanted to make it a little bit of a surprise,” Joe Maldonado tells Madison365. “I was talking to [wife] Mariam and was like, ‘Should we get some announcements? Should we get some media?’ She was like, ‘Nope. On Sunday night when the store is all cleaned up, we’ll start a Facebook Live video.’”

But it kept getting later and later and later as they worked to get the store ready. Finally at 11:30 p.m. they were ready to do the video. “I was like, ‘Are you sure people are going to stay up this late on a Sunday?’ Joe Maldonado remembers asking his wife. “And the video ended up going viral!”

(L-r) Mariam Maldonado, Joe Maldonado and Jenny Nuñez at Luna’s Groceries the night before opening.

And on Monday, despite the snowstorm that shut down many parts of the city, Maldonado says that the traffic has been very good on the first day. The grocery store has quite a bit to offer; the two major showcases of Luna’s Groceries are the deli and the produce aisle. Luna’s has worked hard to get diverse foods that reflect the incredible diversity of the neighborhood it serves.

“This weekend has been a bit of a learning journey for me because I’ve seen products before that I’ve never seen in my life,” Maldonado says. “We’ve got mangos, papayas, Mexican zucchini, collard greens, mustard greens, guava, plantains. We have so many different types of fruits and vegetables that folks from a lot of different ethnic groups consume regularly. Our neighborhood is really diverse, so I have no doubts that folks will be walking over to get that kind of stuff and driving from other parts of the city to get it, too.”

Luna’s Groceries offers fruits and vegetables and certain foods that you won’t find at most other stores.

Luna’s Groceries will have a full-time butcher on staff. It will be open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“I think some our snacks and hot sauces and the salsas and the different seasonings are going to be appealing,” Maldonado says. “Our meat section is going to be pretty amazing, as well. We will have a lot of different types and cuts of meats for folks to be able to bring home.”

For almost a decade, the community has not had a close, walkable grocery store. The Allied-Dunns Marsh Neighborhood, where the Maldonado family has lived for the past 6 years, has been identified as a “food desert” prior to the arrival of Luna’s.

The journey to launch Luna’s Groceries started a few years ago. “Mariam said, ‘I wanted to open up a store here.’ It was a dream,” Maldonado recalls.

Three years ago, a daycare closed down and they Maldonados were looking to buy it, but somebody else beat them to it. “My wife said, ‘Next time an opportunity like this pops up, we’re not wasting any time. We’re going to do it.’”

Early in 2018, Mariam and her mom were driving by a check cashing/payday loan place across the street from McDonald’s. Mariam talked to the owner and realized the building was for sale.

“Wasting very little time, she found out about a Healthy Foods Grant through the city,” Joe Maldonado remembers, speaking of the city-funded Healthy Retail Access Program. “She applied for it and put together a business plan and we started to talk to folks in the neighborhood. We took out some loans. We put a down payment on the building.”

Over the course of the year, they had a few setbacks – vandalized windows, asbestos found in the floor, and flooding that destroyed two freezers and a bakery case donated by UW Health. But the community came out strong for Luna’s. A Gofundme campaign helped recoup some of those costs. Joe Maldonado says that they’ve had over 440 donors who have contributed to the cause.

“The past few weeks have been hiring staff, getting products in the door, and stocking the shelves to get things open,” Joe Maldonado says. “This past weekend was really amazing because dozens of people have just stopped by to help in all sorts of ways.

“This has been a community effort. So many people have chipped in.”

One day into the existence of an important grocery store in a neighborhood that really needs it, some people are wondering (including this reporter) if there is any chance we could get a Luna’s Groceries on the east side, too?

“Part of the city grant – the Healthy Retail Access grant – was a map with 10 identified neighborhoods that are in need because of either a lack of historical and/or residents in the neighborhoods being of lower income,” Maldonado says. “We’ve had a lot of folks talk to us and ask that very question: ‘At some point, would something like Luna’s be able to come to my neighborhood?’ It’s awesome that other folks are already thinking ahead and inspired by Luna’s, too. I would love to see this type of thing happen everywhere in Madison and in other cities, as well.”