Where there were once rabid hockey fans there are now ravenous grocery shoppers, as Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens reopened to the public as a high-end grocery store Wednesday morning.

The new flagship Loblaws store opened its doors to the public, marking the beginning of a new era for a building best known as the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The crowd of would-be grocery shoppers began growing overnight until hundreds of people were lined up along Carleton Street ahead of the grand opening.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, the doors were opened and visitors streamed into the store, met by greeters handing out free $100 gift cards and pointing out some of the store's elaborate features.

Will Patton was the first shopper in line after arriving at about 8 p.m. Tuesday night, and told reporters he was mesmerized by the five-metre wall of cheese.

Grocery giant Loblaw Companies Ltd. has been calling the downtown complex its new "crown jewel." It features the aforementioned cheese wall, a confectionary station that chips chocolate from a massive cocoa blanket, a chef's kitchen and a tea emporium.

While streamlined and modern in many ways, the 85,000 square foot grocery store makes several nods toward the building's past.

A massive blue maple leaf sculpture made out of reclaimed stadium chairs hangs over the entrance, while paintings of several Maple Leafs greats adorn a seating area.

Die-hard hockey fans will have an extra reason to peruse the grocery store aisles as well. At the end of one row of condiments a subtle red dot has been placed on the ground, marking what was once the arena's centre ice.

For former Leafs great Dick Duff, Wednesday's unveiling as much about that past as it was about the future.

"It makes me feel 20 years old again," Duff told CTV Toronto. "That's when I was doing my stuff here (at Maple Leaf Gardens) when I was a young guy. I enjoyed it."

The main level of the Maple Leaf Gardens is also home to a Joe Fresh outlet and an LCBO. The Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre will fill the two floors above the grocery, providing Ryerson University with a hockey arena, basketball court and athletics centre.

Wednesday was the first time in more than a decade that the old Maple Leafs Gardens was opened to the public.

Once the pride of downtown Toronto, the building was vacated in 1999 when the Toronto Maple Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre.

With files from CTV Toronto's Zuraidah Alman. Follow her on Twitter at @ZuraidahCTV