Why Ohio's Hidden Gem Grocery Store Jungle Jim's Is A Must-Visit

Everyone has a favorite place to do their grocery shopping and their own standards for what makes a market desirable. For many, it's all about the lowest prices and if a store carries the items they most want to buy. Others appreciate a tidy atmosphere and friendly staff. Either way, after a time, people get to know their favored groceries like the back of their hands; they know where everything is, and if they need to bring a quarter to use a shopping cart — we're looking at you, Aldi's.

For the most part, shopping for groceries is just another weekly chore. It's something that has to be done, not necessarily something you look forward to. The most exciting part of your shopping is, perhaps, grabbing a Starbucks drink at the entrance or discovering your favorite brand of Greek yogurt has gone on sale. But many of the people that visit, may not even plan to shop at Jungle Jim's, as there is plenty else to see. 

Welcome to the jungle

Jungle Jim's International Market is certainly a grocery store, but to label it as such just doesn't do the place justice. Sure, it sells groceries, pet items, and hygiene products, but it's much more than that. Jungle Jim's is a legit destination. With only two stores in the Cincinnati area, Jungle Jim's makes up in space what it lacks in numbers. Each store has over 200,000 square feet of shopping area and offers visitors more than 180,000 products, according to the store's site. Upon arriving at the original location in Fairfield, you may think you've arrived at a theme park, judging from a (no-kidding) elevated monorail protruding from the store into the parking lot, plus life-sized fiberglass zoo animals lounging beside a waterfall behind a gated space, according to Epicurious. And that's before you even set foot inside the store. 

Approximately 80,000 visitors come to Jungle Jim's every week, some of them to shop, but many of them to ogle and be entertained across acres of food-themed fun. In fact, the store is listed as Trip Advisor's second-best place to visit in the Fairfield area. Out-of-town guests are brought here to spend the afternoon, and folks from out-of-state come because they've seen the store featured on television shows, per Jungle Jim's. It is so large and potentially overwhelming that it offers free tours to those who wish to take things slowly. About 12,000 people a year take advantage of this perk, according to Epicurious.

Mind the wildlife

Once you're inside Jungle Jim's you'll notice that the jungle theme continues, sort of. Above your head are plenty of tree limbs and leaves plus a ceiling that's painted to look like the sky. As you meander throughout, though, you will also notice Robin Hood in a tree with his trusty bow, a human-sized lion dressed up like Elvis, an actual old fire engine, and a real boat by the seafood section. You're also likely to see plenty of customers snapping photos and babies actually enjoying a shopping experience with mom. 

The man responsible for the jolly madness is the founder and CEO, Jim Bonaminio. An entrepreneur since boyhood, Bonaminio prides himself on the store's decor which he calls, "my department" in Epicurious. He gets most of his items for little to nothing from other stores who have no use for them. He then repurposes them in a neighboring warehouse and finds places for them in his stores.

As successful as he has become, Bonaminio is no stranger to his customers. You will not find him locked away in his office all day which is located on site overlooking all the hubbub. He prefers to zoom around the premises on his Segway, often dressed in costume. It fits his motto of "treating customers like gold, and having fun doing it" (via Jungle Jim's).

What can you buy at Jungle Jim's?

First off, you will find milk, eggs, cereal, bread and everything else you'd expect to find at a well-stocked American grocery store. But that's just the beginning. Along with extensive departments like meat, seafood, deli, bakery, and produce, is an international section that sells hundreds of items from over 70 countries, including some not largely represented in most stores like Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India, and South America. The cheese section has more than 1,400 global cheeses to choose from, and the vast produce area carries over 800 kinds of fruits and vegetables.

There are sections (not aisles) devoted to toys, honey, hot sauce, and cookware. The natural foods and supplements area contains a kombucha bar. If you're coming for beer or wine, be prepared: there are over 17,000 wine labels and 4,000 beers. Home brewers will also find an area that sells ingredients and supplies for all their beer-making needs. Of course, the extensive liquor section isn't far away, nor are the impressive cigar humidors.

More than shopping

Jungle Jim's has always been a place to go grocery shopping, but it has also become a place to meet up for a variety of occasions. Alongside cigar nights, pint nights, and wine tastings in the store, Jungle Jim's hosts a renowned cooking school where couples, friends, and individuals can interactively learn to make fondue, prepare classic steakhouse dinners, and become fluent in regional Italian cuisine, per Jungle Jim's.

There are even legitimate event centers on site where the store hosts wine dinners, but guests can also host corporate events and wedding receptions with in-house catering and bar service. Laugh if you must, but their Oscar Event Center is consistently included on wedding website The Knot's "best of" list. And just when you think they've done it all, you find out that this marketplace even has a weekly podcast. But don't worry, despite it all, Jungle Jim's is true to its grocery store roots — they send out their weekly ad special, chock full of sales and deals every single week. 

A trip here is definitely worth your time when you're in the Cincinnati area, but be careful ... it's a jungle out there.