I had some time to kill before attending I Love to Eat, so I decided to visit the just opened Local Choice Produce Market in the Pearl district. They specialize in really focusing on local produce, hence the name. It is still winter and cold (hovering just above freezing), so all the glass garage doors that I’m sure they will throw up during warmer weather were down but I can imagine it will seem even more like an open air market once the season changes.
One of the things I noticed immediately is that it seems like half the store is devoted to being able to enjoy the foods immediately- there is a section as soon as you walk in where there is a “Farmatherapy” area that offers juices and smoothies and shares the space with coffees as well. It also has various baked goods, including gluten free. It has its own register and so it gives it an independent feel almost as if you were at one of the stands at Pike Place Market on a much smaller scale: limited and specialized to focus itself. They even have two different register areas that just have a couple registers each in order to pay for your groceries, rather than the normal layout where there is a “checkout” row. I also don’t remember seeing any carts that I would have to navigate through- just baskets- and no traditional aisles, just “areas” in the store.
In particular, I was drawn to the Farmatherapy and its wide combination of juices and smoothies offerings- with ingredients also able to be combined into your own desired blend. Base drinks included a parsley carrot green apple cabbage ginger one, or a pear pineapple wheatgrass green apple mint in the Fresh Juice Blends section. In the smoothies section I was particularly curious about a rice milk, banana, cocoa, fig, lecethin, espresso, cacao nib, hazelnut, and bacon smoothie, but I went with the oatmeal, hazelnut, cinnamon, flax seed oil, and date sugar smoothie.
So as you can imagine, you can add whatever ingredients they have to one of the drinks. Their juices include apple, grapefruit, orange, carrot, and also wheatgrass. Their extras include whey protein, hemp protein, flax seed oil, bee pollen, cacao nibs, hazelnuts, dates, date sugar, figs, oatmeal, bacon, and a ginger shot.
If I lived closer I would stop by every morning for a smoothie. In fact, I found out later that the Farmatherapy section is actually “doctor designed”… though I’m not sure yet on what this means when a Naturopath and Nutrition Therapist contribute to creating the menu. Everything you can add into it (ok, maybe not the bacon) sounds healthy- but I’m not sure what each option offers.
I’m guessing that the intent of having such a large amount of space devoted for easy and more immediate eating is to support the farmers market, but in a prepared convenient way (aka using the stuff from the grocery side of the store directly into the prepared food offerings). For instance there is also an area where you can get rotisserie chicken, and a beer and wine bar also offers happy hour and you can order local cheese plates and charcuterie plates. In the deli section, they had a variety of food options that were more along the level of Whole Foods and Zupan’s, such as vegan meatloaf and wine marinated mushrooms and roasted beets and a blue cheese potato gratin, the latter of which I asked for two pieces and they heated it up on a white glass plate for me to enjoy with my smoothie.
The deli in the back also supports you ordering a build of your own sandwich. The sheet to build your own dream sandwich includes
- what kind of bread (three kinds of Grand Central Bakery and three kinds from Gabriel’s Bakery),
- meats (8 different kinds, including mortadella and Painted hills pastrami),
- cheeses (8 different kinds including herbed goat cheese),
- lettuce (yes, 5 choices in lettuces, from butter lettuce to arugula to micro herb greens!),
- 9 veggies and condiments (roasted red pepper! mama’s lil peppers! avocado! and 6 more!) and
- 7 sauces (including herbed aioli, romesco sauce, or basil sauce).
The sheet listed $8.50 as a base price with additional meats and additional cheeses beyond the initial one as extra, so I wonder if the other options you could just stack on like you’re Dagwood Bumstead. But, as a bonus, you could eat your sandwich right there and probably even get one of the local brews or local glass of wine to wash it down with.
I was impressed with how selective they are in what they offer. As a specific example, their cheese section for instance isn’t as large as what you would typically find at your local Fred Meyer or Whole Foods or Safeway (the latter two being also in walking distance away from Local Choice). None of their sections will be as large- even City Market Northwest and Food Front Cooperative have more honestly. But what they do carry is of high quality, such as Rivers Edge Chevres’ tortes and rounds and crottins, and Mt Townsend Creamery cheeses such as the Off Kilter that is washed in Pike Brewing’s Kiltlifter scotch ale, or their creamy decadent Trufflestack with Italian black truffles…
Essentially really artisanal premium stuff that I would have had to go to a specialty cheese shop like Steve’s Cheese on the other side of the river to find. I spent a lot of time gazing at the cheese section (I love cheese, what can I say), but I recall the same was true of their pickles, granola, crackers, jam, chocolate, meat and seafood, even the salts. And these are all made in Oregon or Washington, fulfilling their promise of local focus in their name.
Everything here is thoughtfully curated, obviously looking to fulfill the needs of a sophisticated foodie shopper who is also savvy enough to recognize what is being offered here. The consumer also is one financially comfortable enough and conscious enough to vote with their dollar for organic sustainability and supporting local businesses versus just the lip service and still wanting cheap prices. Local Choice is not about cheap prices, that’s for sure. The intended audience is also this actively eco-conscious foodie who would be glad to have something finally on the west side of the river and not just the area on the east side of the river and the suburbs.
But, you won’t be able to get everything you need here- clearly you’ll still need to get to your larger chain grocery for other needs such as household and toiletry products. This is a specialty stop. It’ll be interesting to see if this will work- will people appreciate the quality here and be willing to go to more than one place rather than a get it all single big box store? That model does seem to have some success- you can’t necessarily get all you need at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Zupan’s either. Trader Joe’s is actually very similar to Target in a way in that you generally know that everything is good there (and TJ even mimic’s with the grocery circular a chatty “local” newsletter recommending a product like a neighbor), and their customer is willing to accept less choice in order to trust that it has been selected based on proof of quality. Local Choice is attempting this same niche, more so at a very local curated farmers market scale- though I didn’t quite see any information promoting that connection from farm to fork beyond just hoping the consumers recognize the products and know the story behind the producers.
Particularly, I wonder how the parking situation is going to work out too for Local Choice, I am not sure just the neighborhood population will necessarily be enough, even if it is the Pearl. Still, when i was there on a nice sunny though chilly Sunday early afternoon, I definitely saw quite a few people wandering in out of curiosity to check out what Local Choice has to offer- at one point there was a sudden, surprising rush at Farmatherapy and a line 10 people long. But, I didn’t see anyone doing any real shopping- just browsing and then any purchases were more in the prepared food side.
Since I had the I Love to Eat show to attend I wasn’t ready to do any shopping, but I hope to come back to try their beer and wine bar soon, and see if things have picked up since their opening week. I also hope they can help form a base of community like you would have had at the local neighborhood grocery store back in our parents and grandparents time… we’ll have to see. Let’s see if Portlanders are willing to really spend the money to walk the walk of supporting all the principles and causes that Local Choice Market embodies.