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Oct 2, 2006 04:06 AM

Tribute to Monterey Market

Lest we forget how blessed we are to live in the Bay Area, Lisa Brenneis has produced an affectionate documentary on the Monterey Market and owner Bill Fugimoto. The world premiere of “Eat at Bill’s” took place in the parking lot of the market Saturday night, the film projected on the side of a white truck, the audience sitting on folding chairs. Most of the people there were staff and friends of Fugimoto, who hosted a dinner beforehand in the covered area outside the entrance. (I wasn’t at the dinner; just heard about the screening from a friend.)

It’s a warm and engaging film that centers around Fujimoto, who’s always got a smile on his face and seems to live for buying and selling terrific produce. Brenneis recorded multiple scenes of Fujimoto interacting with the farmers he buys from. He greets them in the parking lot, eagerly opening the boxes on their truck like a kid on Christmas morning. He tastes the fruit and says, “This is really good. How much have you got?” After he buys everything on the truck he inevitably asks, “What else have you got?”

Fujimoto appears to be the biggest customer of any number of small growers, helping them survive by paying a premium for superior cherries, peaches, berries, corn, and much more. (Brenneis, who grows pixie tangerines and other citrus fruits in the Ojai Valley, is one of those growers.)

I’ve been a regular at the Monterey Market for 20 years, but never realized that half the chefs in the East Bay buy from there. We see Rivoli’s Wendy Brucker, Bay Wolf’s Michael Wild, Chez Panisse’s forager, and lots of other East Bay restaurant and bakery people, not to mention Judy Rodgers, who comes over from San Francisco to buy produce for Zuni.

We meet lots of regular customers too, who wax poetic about the produce and the experience of shopping there. A long scene toward the end focuses on Thanksgiving. Fujimoto explains the challenge of preparing for a holiday on which everybody cooks the same meal and it’s nearly impossible to stock enough celery, yams, and potatoes to supply the hoards who descend on the market. Fun shots of Thanksgiving shoppers reading their shopping lists—they’re all pretty much the same—and we meet the couple from the California/Oregon border who provide the monster pumpkins that anchor the mountain of pumpkins Monterey Market sets up each year.

But in the end it all comes down to Fujimoto, whose enthusiasm is infectious and who seems to delight in buying larger quantities of produce than his staff can believe they will be able to sell.

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  1. That is wonderful - do you know if it will be shown again in Berkeley?

    1. Hey topo,

      Lisa B. here. Thanks for talking up "Eat at Bill's", my movie about Bill Fuijimoto and the Monterey Market in Berkeley. I can tell you're a fan of the Market -- me too.

      Saturday's premiere was pretty much a cast and crew, family and friends affair. This movie had a very small crew but a very large cast, so we had about 200 in the audience.

      I just finished the movie in time for this screening, and I have to complete music clearances before I book a lot of screenings and release the DVD version, but I do want to come back to the Bay Area and screen it again soon.

      What I'm doing immediately is asking interested folks to go to this page on our Churchill Orchard web site and sign up for the "Eat at Bill's" mailing list.
      If they tell me what city they are near, I can email then if/when there's a local screening, and I can alert them when my DVDs are ready.

      Sign up for Eat at Bill's Mailing Screening/DVD Alert:

      1. My then wife and I shopped regularly at Monterey Market as far back as 1968 when we lived in University Village. We'd stop there for produce on our way home after buying cheese at the Cheese Board and drinking coffee at Peet's, of course.

        What else is new in the world?

        1. Do you remember that it used to be in the brick building across the street? Some of my earliest memories are of shopping there. Do you know when they moved to the present spot?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Glencora

            Part of the good old days syndrome.Go at opening.Get your cart,line it up at the cash register and shop quickly.It was a really tight fit.

            1. re: wolverine61

              Yeah, and the place across the street was a Top Dog and tacky ice cream store. I didn't say they were GOOD memories, I just said they were early memories.

              1. re: Glencora

                A Top Dog in that location? I only remember that it was soemwhere near Westbrae Foods, another one of our regular stops.

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  I'm pretty sure that I remember going there in junior high. The building that is now Cafe Roma (and, I think, was a gas station long ago) was split in half, with a Top Dog one half and an ice cream place in the other.

          2. I think Monterey Market moved into the new building around 1982.