On a Tuesday morning, earlier this spring, Fausto Howay and Julie Stonebraker sat at a table with a couple of their coworkers. Behind their laptops, Howay and Stonebraker placed orders for the food that will soon be available at the Community Foods Market, the much-anticipated supermarket opening soon in West Oakland. It will be the first grocery store of its kind in the McClymonds, Hoover-Foster and Clawson neighborhoods since the 1970s.
Howay, food service manager and chef, is heading up Front Porch Café, the prepared foods section of the store that, as of this writing, has a menu featuring about 100 items. Dishes will include breakfast, lunch and dinner options, like breakfast sandwiches, espresso drinks, and entrees and sides like jambalaya, chicken chile verde, fried herb okra and house pesto penne.
“We’re trying to see what the community wants to eat. But we’re putting our own twist on it. Healthy, organic and fresh,” said Howay. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about food, what’s in the neighborhood, what they’d like to see, what they like to eat.”
Howay said he’s also open to hearing resident’s feedback and adjusting the menu as needed.
The Front Porch Café was not part of the original plan for the grocery store but after community members expressed their desire for a social space where they could talk to their neighbors and eat, the Community Foods Market team made adjustments.
“We did not plan as large of a prepared food service program and we certainly didn’t plan a dedicated space. That was all about community input, saying we want that,” said Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of the Community Foods Market, who noted that they also plan to host community programming in the space, like live music and film screenings.
“We did not plan as large of a prepared food service program and we certainly didn’t plan a dedicated space. That was all about community input, saying we want that.” — Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of Community Foods Market
Ahmadi said the grocery store was initially going to offer pre-packaged meat and seafood options but another piece of feedback West Oakland residents offered was their desire for a meat and seafood counter.
“But again, community feedback was, we want full service,” he said. “We want the full-service experience like other communities get, which means we want a butcher and we want custom cuts and we want to be able to order those cuts how we want them.”
The team changed course, and meat and seafood department manager Stonebraker has researched the best options to source the counter, considering the price point and how well the companies treat their workers. Store Manager Morgan Carrico took the lead on developing the produce program at the market with help from a few suppliers such as Fresko and North Valley Produce. Bill Fujimoto, formerly of Berkeley’s Monterey Market, serves on the Community Foods Market board and has offered some general advisement.
In comparison to other grocery stores, pricing at Community Foods Market will vary by the product category, according to Ahmadi, who said the market will offer lower prices on produce, meats and other perishables. He said it’ll be competitive on private label items and “discount items sold at our Wall of Values” but that “we won’t be the cheapest on every grocery item.”
“Our strategy is to offer a whole range of products in every category, value options, kind of traditional, national brand options, and specialty and organic options,” he said, noting the diverse demographics in West Oakland. “You’ll have lots of folks looking for the national brand they’re used to and have been buying for decades. And then you’ve got folks who are really looking for organic or some special trend kind of thing, and so, we want to cater to all those different segments.”
Residents in the section of West Oakland where the grocery store is located currently have a few options to get fresh food and produce, but most involve traveling outside of their immediate community. There’s Mandela Grocery, a worker-owned cooperative near the West Oakland BART Station that has been open for a decade. There are also large chain grocery stores like Pak ’N Save, Safeway and Trader Joe’s.
“[Grocery] chains generally don’t come to these neighborhoods as we see,” Ahmadi said. “It is truly left up to local efforts, but they are typically locked out of capital.”
To raise funds for the Community Foods Market, Ahmadi sold stock in the company to the public, eventually raising more than $2.2 million from nearly 650 shareholders, many of whom live in the Bay Area.
When people invested, some of them left notes online about why they chose to give their money to the project.
“Access to local, healthy, affordable food should be a right and not a privilege,” Steve Schultz wrote.
As the Community Foods Market gets closer to opening, it aims to give West Oakland residents access to good food and it has already had other impacts as well.
“One good thing I saw already is that it’s bringing more jobs” said Roseanna McCoy-Futch, an Oakland native who invested in the Community Foods Market, who noted that she hopes the wages workers make will allow them to stay in the community that, like the rest of the Bay Area, is seeing rising rents.
The Community Foods Market has already hired at least 40 employees, with its starting hourly pay for entry-level employees at $15. Full-time employees, who work at least 30 hours per week, also get a medical plan after 90 days of employment, according to Ahmadi.
“I would say 80% are not just from the neighborhood but within a half a mile,” he said. “I wanted local and we did even better than I thought we would.”
“Access to local, healthy, affordable food should be a right and not a privilege.”
Ahmadi, who has been rooted in the West Oakland community for years, said the accidental hyperlocal hiring is a point of pride.
“As you have folks coming in who know these folks because it’s their neighbor, their cousin, their whatever relation, or they’ve known them forever,” he said. “It’s a way to take the customer service to the next level because they already know them.”
The high number of local employees is something, Ahmadi said, he hopes to sustain, in addition to the business as a whole.
“We want to get profitable so we can reinvest those profits back into programs, better wages, and be here for the long term,” he said.
Community Foods Market will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, daily. The hours at Front Porch Café will be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily. On June 1, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Community Foods Market will hold its official grand opening with a free street festival right in front of the store. There will be live performances from musicians including Jonah Melvon and West Coast Blues Society, food and drink samples, community mural painting and other activities.