Hundreds of shoppers packed the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at 336 N. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara on Wednesday for the grocery store’s grand opening.

Fresh & Easy is an El Segundo-based grocery chain, under its British parent company Tesco, that carries fresh-prepared meals, meats and produce that have no artificial colors or flavors, no added trans fats and no high-fructose corn syrup, as well as national brand products.

General manager John Clark said he has opened three Fresh & Easy stores but never one that had this much anticipation.

“I’ve never had so many people come to the store and constantly check it out over the past two weeks,” said Clark, who presented a $1,000 check to the Animal Shelter Assistance Program on Wednesday morning. “Part of it is Scolari’s closing, which is good for us in a sense but sad for the 180 people who worked there.”

Scolari’s closed all of its California stores in April, including the one down the street from the new Fresh & Easy market.

Mark Warren and his two 3-year-old daughters, Lila and Natalie, were Scolari’s regulars for the past 15 years.

“We live in the neighborhood, so when Scolari’s closed down we were left without a local supermarket,” Warren said. “I don’t know if it will fill the void. I haven’t checked out the produce section yet, and that will be the clincher for me.”

Two of Fresh & Easy’s most distinguishing features are its prepared appetizers, main course entrées and desserts, and the absence of extras such as preservatives and dyes, Clark said.

Warren said he liked the healthy-choice options for his daughters.

Three-year-old sisters Natalie, left, and Lila Warren, shopping with dad Mark, check out the produce section at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

Sisters Natalie, left, and Lila Warren, shopping with dad Mark, check out the produce section at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market. (Alex Kacik / Noozhawk photo)

“I think the price points look pretty reasonable. This is a working-class neighborhood with a lot of families here that will like that,” he said. “I also like that the junk food is not displayed prominently like a place like Scolari’s. It looks like (Fresh & Easy) is trying to push people to eat healthy, sensible food choices.”

The 11,680-square-foot grocery chain replaced a handful of local businesses, including Whitefoot Meat Market, El Pollo Nor Tenor, a nail salon and a dry cleaner; it took about two years to plan and construct. Fresh & Easy operates more than 170 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada but closed seven underperforming California stores in January.

Another Fresh & Easy at Santa Barbara Motorsport’s former location at 5595 Calle Real in Goleta is set to open by the end of the year. Clark said the Milpas location has about 30 employees and will look to add a couple more in the near future.

“So many customers live here and don’t drive to the store, they walk, so they will want to come back to this area,” he said.

Eastside resident Lei Asato used to go to the Fresh & Easy in Ventura. She said the grocery store is a good fit for the area.

“The products have no preservatives and they’re all-natural,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing that it has come here.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.