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Sep 22, 2008 10:05 AM

LA Times: At the Berkeley Bowl, the nuts are off the shelf

LA Times article on Berkeley Bowl.

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  1. Great article and so true. Can't stand the nosy idiots that roam the aisles there. Shut your pieholes and let us shop in peace.

    1. I think it's sad that the major focus of the article is on banning people. I'm sure it happens, but this is exaggerated. I'm at the Berkeley Bowl at least weekly, usually with kids in tow. My kids always eat a piece of fruit from the produce section. When we get to the register we say "There were actually three apples (or bananas, or nectarines or whatever), but we ate one already". They charge us for what we ate, no big deal. There are no signs posted in the produce section about not stealing, no one has ever given us a hard time, etc.
      The tricky part is managing the crowds and the carts and the bulk foods. But, if you find the right time to go, or you're determined, it's the best grocery store ever, if you value produce above all else.
      When my daughter was two, if you asked her where she lived, she would almost always answer "Berkeley Bowl" (instead of Berkeley)!

      1. Well, yes and no on that article.

        In the decades I've shopped regularily at the Bowl, I've never seen the extremes.I've never seen a car close to getting rammed or an actual fist fight. I will say I've gotten into one or two verbal exchanges. Usually I just roll my eyes and bite my tongue ... very, very often.

        I remember more the many, many, many pleasant exchanges such as talking to customers about recommendations. Often while in a long line your basket is looked over out of boredom by your fellow line-mates and conversations start about how such and such item tastes or is used.

        I think that for the most part, if you shop at Berkeley Bowl you have to be almost zen about it or you will lose it. Yes it is crowded. Yes, there will be some jerks. However like that woman in the article said, as far as the produce and other items are concerned, this is food shopping heaven ... at least for me.

        However ... lord ... I never knew BB banned customers forever. I've had produce people there ask me to take a sample. I've never bought a bunch of grapes anywhere that I haven't tried one. I don't sample often, but for those few times I do, I'll keep an eye out for the food police.

        Interesting way to handle the problems ...

        " Those caught sampling without buying will be banned for life -- no reprieves, no excuses. (Not even "I forgot to take my medication.")

        Raphael Breines, who was ejected last year for eating on the premises ... a longtime customer, sent an apology letter, asking to be reinstated. His request was denied.

        "I don't like to see them berate employees," she said. "I'll say, 'I'm sorry, but we just can't seem to please you. Why don't you shop somewhere else?' "

        Glenn Yasuda, meanwhile, can only shake his head. "For every bad apple," he said, "you've got 100 good ones."

        Sounds sort of familiar.Now where else have I heard something similar to that?

        6 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          I've shopped at the Bowl off and on for years and I've never heard such a thing -- I've also never had a problem with excessively rude behavior (oblivious perhaps, but not actively rude). I think this article is mostly just an opportunity for the LA Times to make fun of Berkeley and the people who live there.

          I do make an active attempt to avoid peak shopping hours at the Bowl, although, as I've written before, there's no good time to shop there during Thanksgiving week:

          1. re: rworange

            I've shopped at the bowl for years, and yes, my car has been rammed in the parking lot. Only accident I've had in 25+ years. A woman was tired of waiting for me to move and just backed out of her space into me.

            As far as being banned for sampling, during cherry season everybody tries some of each variety to see what is best that day, same with grapes. Larger fruit like peaches can be a bit more gray, but ask any one of the produce guys and they'll usually cut you a sample. I think if you went in and had lunch in the store, a little cheese, a couple of deli meats, some fruit and veggies and then left with a dollars worth of tofu, that would be a banning in my book.

            As far as the Berkeley attitude goes, I agree with the article. I used to occasionally work in the city ticket office of a major Unnamed Air Line on University. The bizarre nature of the requests we fielded there as well as the sense of entitlement were orders of magnitude higher than any of the other 14 bay area offices.

            1. re: Scrapironchef

              I think you also have to factor in that there are a lot of people in the area around the Bowl -- homeless, students, etc. -- who would try to put together a meal by "sampling" and walk out without paying for anything, so the management probably feels it has to have a hard line. I've never had any problems at the Bowl parking lot, although I usually park on the street anyway. The place with the hideous parking lot etiquette is the Grand Lake farmers market, which is a single-lane loop, so that one person waiting for a space holds up every other car, including those who want to leave, and keeps them from accessing empty spaces that might be at the other end of the lot. I have come very close to getting into fights there with people who insist on waiting for a particular space when I can see there is another space farther ahead.

              1. re: Scrapironchef

                Yeah, I think Ruth has hit it as far as the Bowl is concerned, it usually is just oblivious.

                Usually just asking or pointing a problem out results in someone waking up and realizing there are people around them.

                As to sampling the article did mention major things like people opening up sake and drinking it or eating cookies or trail mix while waiting for it to be weighed. Though thinking about the bowl, I like that sake idea. Maybe I'll purchase some before shopping to mellow out the experience.

                Gee, the current Bowl is spacious and relaxing compared to the old days when the lot was half the size and the aisles so narrow the strategy was to find a place to park your basket and then do a back and forth bringing produce to the basket because there wasn't enough room to wheel a basket down the aisles.

                But like they said, there are people in Berkeley with that sense of entitlement.. I stopped going to the original Peet's years ago when one kid running around stepped on my foot. The parent not only didn't tell the kid to stop but acted like I had a nerve getting in their darling's path.

                1. re: rworange

                  But I've run into that sense of entitlement lots of places, and for a long time. Almost 30 years ago when I was working at a kitchenware store I got yelled at by a woman for telling her darling grandchild not to handle a glass cheese dome -- this after I had already had to take away the chef's knife he was playing with while grandma was on the other side of the store blithely ignoring him.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I agree that it's not as bad as the article makes it sound... which really, although hyped up, is not really that harsh. However, I do tend to agree with the other posters that there is/has been a high frequency of individuals with outsized senses of entitlement in the Berkeley area. It was one of the major cultural things I noticed moving here (the East Bay) 15 years ago (from LA county, the Midwest and the Pacific NW) and spending the first 6.5 years working and/or living in Berkeley. I was scared off of Berkeley Bowl back then by a couple of bad experiences, but I certainly experienced the same sorts of things around Berkeley proper in those times (I seemed to notice it most in groceries and drugstores... especially the Shattuck and Telegraph Andronico's). In recent years I have begun shopping a BB again, and agree it's not too bad, and great in the ways everybody acknowledges. Maybe things are better overall, not just the customers at BB. Or maybe I've just gone too native, and don't notice anymore.

            2. That is a weird article and agree it's a bit titled towards hippy-dippy Berkeley bashing. Besides the crowds, which I avoid, I've never had a problem at BB or seen any weirdnes but I don't doubt any of it either. There are a bunch of weirdos and flakes in Berkeley and they shop like everyone else. I think the 1 out of 100 bad apples analogy is perfect...just can't figure out why they gave that much ink to it. Oh well...

              1. The author seems to have made a quick pass through and escaped with prejudices intact.

                The cherry table and the peach aisle both have garbage pails for pits. There's almost always open oranges and tangerines during the season. Just this evening I tried one of every grape variety, there were about 12. It looks to me like sampling is encouraged and when I'm banned, I'll come back here and warn you all.

                Roommate of a friend was caught shoplifting. Got the photo and permanent bannination treatment described in the article. Police were not called. I though that was pretty sporting of them.

                In 10 years of shopping there at least 3 times a week, I don't think I've ever had a single unpleasant encounter with anyone (except maybe for the customer service lady who is absolutely useless for anything but getting the manager who then solves all problems.)
                Even on the most crowded Sunday on the day before a monday holiday in the worst giant cart traffic jam in front of the fish counter, if you just smile and say, "woo hoo! Sunday at the bowl!" everybody laughs and life goes on.